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Thai coup brings mix of relief and anxiety

Thailand's military coup was met with both jubilation and dismay by rival sides of Thailand's political divide, but for most Bangkok residents the more prosaic concern of getting home safely before a night-time curfew dominated.

BANGKOK: Thailand's military coup was met with both jubilation and dismay by rival sides of Thailand's political divide, but for most Bangkok residents the more prosaic concern of getting home safely before a night-time curfew dominated.

Commuters rushed through the city's congested streets as public transport prepared to shut down ahead of the army-ordered curfew which came into force at 10pm local time (1500 GMT).

"I'm afraid the BTS (skytrain) will close," said 33-year-old Waritha Muensri, hurrying to an overground train station in the commercial heart of the city.

"I'm not scared of the curfew... even though there is the coup, the (political) problems are still there."

Bangkok's traffic-snarled roads were more congested than usual as taxis did a roaring trade ferrying workers home, prompting the national airline to warn passengers to head to the airport early for their flights.

Even the ubiquitous 24-hour convenience stores shuttered early until the curfew is lifted at 5am on Friday.

The coup and curfew also left tourists rattled.

"I want to be safe in my hostel before 10pm," said Katinka Nauta, a 22-year-old Dutch student on her first day in Bangkok.

"I'm shocked how quiet everything is, there are no tourists. It's a bit scary. I've never experienced anything like this before."

But among Thais there was little visible evidence of tension in a laid-back city accustomed to curfews, coups and political turmoil.

And there was only a smattering of soldiers and police on the streets, which have hosted nearly seven months of sometimes deadly protests by anti-government demonstrators.

Announcing a military coup, the army chief said he was pressed to act by the political turmoil and rising fear of widespread violence after gun and grenades attacks which left at least 28 people dead and hundreds more wounded.

The move was greeted with jubilation by anti-government protesters who watched the televised announcement on a big screen at a sand-bagged encampment around the Government House in the city's historic heart.

They were busily dismantling tents and food stalls following army orders to disperse, with those from out of Bangkok told they would be sent back to their homes in army buses later on Thursday night.

"I'm happy... we have won. The army has done a great job for us. This is our victory. We can go home now," Sasilak Srisonboon, 55, told AFP as she walked out of the Government House protest site.

Others were more circumspect.

Bussayamas Rarsiam said she was willing to abide by the army edict but warned that she wanted reforms to exorcise Thailand of billionaire former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who they accuse of poisoning the kingdom with money politics and corruption.

"We're going now... but if the army do not bring reforms we will come out again," the 50-year-old said, before conceding she was "glad to be going home".

But for pro-government supporters the coup confirmed fears they have voiced since October when protesters began their campaign to topple an administration elected by voters mostly from the north and northeast of the country.

At a Red Shirt rally on the outskirts of Bangkok an AFP reporter saw a woman in tears screaming at soldiers who arrived in droves shortly after the coup announcement to break up the rally.

Among a slew of televised announcements on Thursday evening, an army spokesman said international airline passengers and shift workers were exempted from the curfew while schools and universities will close across the country on Friday.

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