|Thai soldiers stand guard on a military tank in front of the Royal Plaza in Bangkok, Sep. 20, 2006 (AFP Photo)|
World leaders on Tuesday condemned a military coup in Thailand, urging Thais to embrace the rule of law and their respective citizens to stay away from the troubled Asian nation.
The events unfolded as many world leaders were gathered in New York for the UN General Assembly, including Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who cancelled his scheduled address to the assembly after the coup.
A senior Thai official in New York told AFP that Thaksin planned to leave the United States overnight but did not give his destination.
"I don't have the details but this is not a practice to be encouraged," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said of the coup, on the sidelines of the assembly.
"We as an organisation have always supported governmental changes through democratic means, through the ballot box," Annan told CNN. He urged the Thai people to "remain calm".
"Over the past decade or so they have established a solid democracy and institutions under the leadership of the king. And I'm sure they will be able to restore that institution and go back to a democratic system as soon as possible," Annan said.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said his country was gravely concerned at the "unacceptable" overthrow of the Thai government.
"We want to see a return to democratic rule," Downer said in New York, in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "It's of grave concern for us that the government has been overthrown in this way.
"There was an expectation in Thailand that there would be an election towards the end of this year and it is of concern to us that the military appear to have simply seized power," Downer said.
Downer's ministry in Canberra strongly advised Australians to avoid travelling to Thailand and warned those already there to take extreme care and avoid crowds of soldiers.
Thailand's armed forces said Tuesday they had ousted Shinawatra in a bloodless coup and imposed martial law to restore order after months of political turmoil in the kingdom.
Troops poured into the streets and tanks surrounded the offices of Thaksin, while military leaders said they had suspended the constitution and the government.
The uprising capped months of uncertainty and unhappiness about Thaksin, who was accused of corruption after his family sold nearly two billion dollars of shares in his company earlier this year without paying any tax.
Wednesday, Thailand's coup leaders declared a national holiday and ordered top civil servants to a meeting at military headquarters to announce their "new policy".
The United States said it was closely monitoring developments in Thailand and urged the Thai people to remain peaceful and obey the rule of law.
"We look to the Thai people to resolve their political differences in a peaceful manner and in accord with the principles of democracy and the rule of law," State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said.
"Canada is deeply concerned by these developments. We urge a peaceful solution to this crisis in conformity with the country's constitution," Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay said in a release.
"Thailand has made marked progress in terms of respect for human rights and the rule of law, and Canada urges all parties to continue to uphold these values."
"We are never happy about military attempts to overthrow a government, if that is what is happening," British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett told reporters at the UN.
"But we very much hope there will be peace and the situation will be resolved and that some peaceful way out of the problem will be determined," the British minister added.
The European Union demanded an immediate return to "democratic order".
Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said Thailand needed to "revert to democratic order without delay".
"It is highly regrettable that democratic institutions seem to have been taken over by military force," he said in a statement.
France urged some 6,000 French citizens resident in Bangkok to "stay indoors", according to the foreign ministry in Paris.
Britons traveling to Bangkok or who are already there should monitor all available information and avoid large crowds and demonstrations, the British Foreign Office said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark condemned the coup and urged a return to democracy. She said she was shocked and deeply disturbed by the coup.
"New Zealand condemns any process which seeks to overturn a government by unconstitutional and undemocratic means," Clark said.
"New Zealand urges all political and military players to resolve their differences peacefully, and to act in accordance with Thailand's democratic principles."
While the situation on the streets of Bangkok was reportedly calm, Wellington said visits to Thailand should be delayed if possible.
Republic of Korea likewise called for a peaceful solution to the crisis and urged its citizens to stay away. "We hope Thailand will restore peace according to legal procedures," a foreign ministry spokesman said.