Thailand’s coup: Key questions answered

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A man, center, is detained by plainclothes police officers after holding an anti-coup sign outside a McDonald’s restaurant in downtown Bangkok, Thailand Saturday, May 31, 2014. In his first address to the public since taking control of Thailand in a bloodless coup, army commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the head of the military junta, said it could take more than a year for new elections to be held because peace and reforms must be achieved first. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

A man, center, is detained by plainclothes police officers after holding an anti-coup sign outside a McDonald’s restaurant in downtown Bangkok, Thailand Saturday, May 31, 2014. In his first address to the public since taking control of Thailand in a bloodless coup, army commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the head of the military junta, said it could take more than a year for new elections to be held because peace and reforms must be achieved first. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

A boy, center, plays with Thai soldiers guarding the square at Victory Monument to prevent anti-coup demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand Friday, May 30, 2014. An anti-coup activist in Thailand called Friday for a weekend rally to defy the military government’s ban on demonstrations, urging those opposed to the takeover to wear masks and be ready for cat-and-mouse chases with soldiers in the capital. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

A worker sprays water to clean the building at the Government House compound during a big cleaning Saturday, May 31, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The Prime Minister’s Office of Government House is to officially opened to work on Monday June 2, 2014 after it has been closed down during the more than six months of political protest when anti-government protesters occupied the roads surrounding the compound in an attempt to oust the then Prime Minister. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

City workers carrying brooms and baskets walk past the Thai Koo Fah building inside the Government House compound during a big cleaning Saturday, May 31, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The Prime Minister’s Office of Government House is to officially opened to work on Monday June 2, 2014 after it has been closed down during the more than six months of political protest when anti-government protesters occupied the roads surrounding the compound in an attempt to oust the then Prime Minister. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

City workers sweep the ground at the Government House compound Saturday, May 31, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The prime minister’s office at Government House in the Thai capital is to officially open for work on Monday, June 2, 2014 after it was closed down for more than six months while anti-government protesters occupied the roads surrounding the compound in an attempt to oust the then-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

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BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s army seized power in a May 22 coup, the Southeast Asian nation’s second in eight years. Here, four Associated Press correspondents who have been covering the crisis and the political turmoil leading up to it offer their insight into recent events:

Q: THAILAND IS KNOWN AS THE “LAND OF SMILES.” WHY IS THERE SO MUCH POLITICAL TURMOIL?

Thai society is undergoing major change, and politics over the past decade has in part been a battle between the old royalist ruling class and an ascendant majority based in the north and northeast that has benefited from development and has begun to see itself as a political force.

Much of that struggle has played out around one man — former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire tycoon deposed by a 2006 coup who now lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a prison sentence on a corruption conviction. The issue of whether to support or oppose Thaksin and his powerful political machine has divided friends, families and the nation.

Thaksin entered politics by founding his own political party and buying the loyalty of local political bosses nationwide. He won a landslide election in 2001, and once in office he cemented his popularity among Thailand’s rural and urban poor majority with unprecedented populist policies. Thaksin often was accused of being arrogant and bullying critics, as well as failing to keep his private business interests separate from the business of government. This alienated the educated, urban middle class and alarmed traditional ruling circles — royalists and the military — who perceived in his naked ambition a desire to usurp the prerogatives of the throne, or even destroy the nation’s revered monarchy itself.

The 2006 coup might have ended the story, but monarchists and their allies sought to punish Thaksin and froze part of his fortune. He refused to accept his fate and resurrected his political party, while both sides mobilized proxy popular forces — the pro-Thaksin “Red Shirts” and the anti-Thaksin “Yellow Shirts.” The latter evolved into the protest movement that had destabilized Bangkok since November in its bid to bring down the government.

Rules went out the window as the protesters’ battle for power resulted in violence. The courts and military were willing to turn a blind eye to acts of insurrection by demonstrators, enabling the political deadlock that served as the army’s excuse for the latest coup.

— Grant Peck has covered Thailand and Southeast Asia for the AP for more than two decades. He has reported on three previous Thai coups and several other coup attempts.

OVER THE PAST DECADE, THAILAND’S POLITICAL CRISIS HAS LED TO RIOTS, PROTESTS AND EVEN THE BRIEF SHUTDOWN OF THE NATION’S MAIN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT IN BANGKOK. IS THAILAND STILL SAFE TO VISIT?

When the outside world hears the words “military coup,” it imagines tanks in the streets and a country under lockdown. That is not the scene in Thailand, where most things have remained the same. The military is trying to keep a low profile, and some people have noted that they’ve seen troops only on TV. Some tourists say they are barely aware of the coup. Many have tweeted pictures from

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