Kiwis in Thailand cautious, 'not fearful'

AIMEE GULLIVER
Last updated 14:31 23/05/2014

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Kiwis in Thailand say they're concerned but not panicking after the military imposed martial law and declared a coup.

Taryn Wilson, a New Zealand journalist living in Bangkok, said all broadcasting, television and radio stations were under military control, and international channels had been blocked. 

Social media was the only reliable way to get immediate information, and in a "particularly concerning" move, it was reported that internet service providers had been directed to report to the military.

"It's hard to predict what will happen next but obviously there is a concern of coming backlash and violence, and of course how the country is going be run under military rule and for how long," Wilson said.  

It the second coup New Zealander Justin Barnett has been in the country for, and he said precautions were important, but expected life to "get back to normal very quickly". 

"I got some extra cash out of the ATM, we are well stocked with food and water anyway, and will fill up the car today just in case."

It was important to be aware of areas which might be "hot spots" for protests and for the potential for things to get out of hand, and to always remember to be courteous, he said. 

"As a foreign national you must remember you are a guest in their country.  It may not be what we are used to, but their politics is their politics, and best left for the Thais to sort out."

New Zealander Michael Holt said Bangkok felt "a little strange", as he lived close to a major thoroughfare and was not used to the middle of town being so silent. 

"It's been months and months of uncertainty and most expats are just tired of the disruption rather than fearful in any way."

But not everyone was taking the coup so lightly - Holt said there were stories of armed Red Shirt gangs on the way, and his Thai staff were inclined to believe the rumours. 

"One of my staff, returning home, was worried because she happened to be wearing a red shirt today and also had a backpack - so she was worried about being targeted."

Red Shirts are a pro-government political pressure group who support deposed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra.

The coup's origins date back to the 2006 military ouster of Thaksin, who built a strong political base with policies that appealed to rural villagers in the north of Thailand. 

Thaksin's removal sparked an opposition movement that resulted in widespread demonstrations in Bangkok in 2010. Violent suppression of the protests by the military left 90 dead. 

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It is the 12th time the Thai military has taken over the government since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has updated its travel advisory and urges New Zealanders in Thailand to exercise caution. 

There were no changes to the travel advisory risk levels following the coup but the situation was being "closely monitored," an MFAT spokeswoman said. 

Southern provinces and border regions were at "high risk" and there was "some risk" to security elsewhere in Thailand due to the threat from terrorism and potential for violent civil unrest. 

The military imposed a curfew between the hours of 10pm and 5am, but those flying in or out of Thailand can travel to or from the airport as long as they can show travel documents at military checkpoints.

"New Zealanders throughout Thailand are advised to exercise caution, monitor the media to stay informed of developments, avoid any protests, demonstrations and large public gatherings and adhere to any instructions and restrictions issued by the local authorities, including curfews," the spokeswoman said. 

On Tuesday, when the military declared martial law, 990 New Zealanders were registered as being in the country. The number is now up to 1139, and there are likely more Kiwis in Thailand not registered with the site. 

MFAT advised New Zealanders in Thailand to register their details at www.safetravel.govt.nz.

- Stuff

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