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In pictures: coup #12

On 22nd May 2014, Thailand’s military announced it was taking control of the government and suspending the country’s constitution. The generals hoped that a coup d’état, the country’s 12th since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, would bring to an end seven months of clashes between supporters and opponents of Yingluck Shinawatra’s government.

Australian photojournalist Asanka Brendon Ratnayake arrived in Bangkok before a coup seemed a possibility, and watched the events unfold. Here are some pictures from the run-up to and the aftermath of the coup, with Ratnayake’s comments on what was happening.


15th May – one week before the coup: “I took this around midday at the Democracy Monument. I’d woken up, checked my Twitter, and rushed here because I saw that a grenade had exploded during the night and two anti-government protesters had been killed. When I arrived there was a big PDRC [People’s Democratic Reform Committee; opponents of the Shinawatra government] camp perhaps 500 metres away, and if you were to zoom out you’d see lots of PDRC members taking a look at the bloodstained ground. As well as the grenade attack there had been gunfire from a hotel across the road and 24 people had been wounded. The blood stains weren’t cleaned up for a long time.”


22nd May – the day of the coup: “The day of the actual coup was so weird. Two days earlier, the leaders of both the red-shirts [supporters of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra and allies of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister] and the yellow-shirts [opponents of the Shinawatras] were asked to go to a clubhouse for top army officials. The media couldn’t get any access; the best we could hope for was a photo of generals driving past. After two days of waiting around and seeing nothing, I was fed up and considered not going for a third day, the day of the coup.

It was funny because a lot of foreign journalists felt the same way and weren’t there when the coup actually happened, and they had to rush back. Nobody had any idea it was about to happen, but all of a sudden all these army trucks came out from everywhere. We had no idea what was going on. Eventually an army spokesperson invited us into this makeshift press conference room that you can see in the photo. We all set up our cameras, not knowing what to expect, and then a soldier said to us ‘watch the TV screen’. This is what we saw: that iconic image you get with almost every coup, the focused army general and his stern-looking aides in front of a bland background. That’s when we realised there had been a coup. It had happened less than a hundred yards from us but we only realised it when we watched it on television.”  


24th May – two days after the coup: “This crowd had lots of A3 paper and were making signs in English and French, all really bad Google translations. These placards don’t make much sense. I think this crowd was more red-shirt, more working class. They were aware of the foreign press around so they were trying to get noticed. I’m of Sri Lankan origin and I couldn’t help but notice that the protesters were much more likely to try and get the attention of my more Western-looking colleagues. My white colleagues were hounded by Thais saying ‘you have to tell our story’, whereas I didn’t get that at all. Getting coverage in Western media was obviously more important to them.”


28th May – six days after the coup: “When you think of a military coup, you tend to think of army tanks rolling down the street to Government House, everybody at home quivering with fear. But it was nothing like that – people were out and about, and protesting openly. I call it ‘coup-lite’. Maybe it’s because they’re used to having coups – this is their 19th including seven failed attempts – but also I think it’s just their way of life. The Thais are a very relaxed people.”

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