The Thai military launched a coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Tuesday night, circling his offices with tanks, seizing control of TV stations and declaring a provisional authority pledging loyalty to the king.
An announcement on Thai television declared that a "Council of Administrative Reform" with King Bhumibol Adulyadej as head of state had seized power in Bangkok and nearby provinces without any resistance.
At least 14 tanks surrounded Government House, Thaksin's office. Thaksin was in New York at the U.N. General Assembly and declared a state of emergency via a government-owned TV station.
A convoy of four tanks rigged with loudspeakers and sirens rolled through a busy commercial district warning people to get off the street for their own safety.
A senior military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin had used the military to take over power from the prime minister.
Thaksin has faced calls to step down amid allegations of corruption and abuse of power.
Massive rallies earlier this year forced Thaksin to dissolve Parliament and call an election in April, three years ahead of schedule. The poll was boycotted by opposition parties and later annulled by Thailand's top courts, leaving the country without a working legislature.
Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party twice won landslide election victories, in 2001 and 2005 and had been expected to win the next vote on Oct. 15, bolstered by its widespread support in the country's rural areas.
In 1992, demonstrators against a military strongman were gunned down before the king stepped in to end the fighting and usher in a period of stability.
On Monday, Thaksin had said he may step down as leader of the country after upcoming elections, but he will remain at the helm of his party, despite calls for him to give up the post.
On Tuesday night, several hundred soldiers were deployed at government installations and major intersections in the capital of Bangkok, according to an Associated Press reporter.
Army-owned TV channel 5 interrupted regular broadcasts with patriotic music and showed pictures of the king. At least some radio and television stations monitored in Bangkok suspended programming.
The cable television station of the Nation newspaper reported that tanks were parked at the Rachadamnoen Road and royal plaza close to the royal palace and government offices.
"The prime minister with the approval of the cabinet declares serious emergency law in Bangkok from now on" Thaksin said on Channel 9 from New York. He said he was ordering the transfer of the nation's army chief to work in the prime minister's office, effectively suspending him from his military duties.
Thaksin's critics want to jettison his policies promoting privatization, free trade agreements and CEO-style administration.
Opposition to Thaksin gained momentum in January when his family announced it had sold its controlling stake in telecommunications company Shin Corp. to Singapore's state-owned Temasek Holdings for a tax-free $1.9 billion. Critics allege the sale involved insider trading and complain a key national asset is now in foreign hands.
Thaksin also has been accused of stifling the media and mishandling a Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand that flared under his rule.
In Thailand's mostly Muslim south, separatist insurgents have waged a bloody campaign that has left at least 1,700 dead, mostly civilians, since 2004. Citizens there have complained of rights abuses by soldiers and discrimination by the country's Buddhist majority.