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Bangkok residents welcome Thai coup

Pro-establishment groups in Thailand see the military troops as guardians of national cohesion.

FILE: Thai soldiers stand guard after army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha met with anti-government and pro-government leaders at the Army Club in Bangkok on 22 May 2014. Thailand's army chief announced in an address to the nation that the armed forces were seizing power after months of deadly political turmoil. Picture: AFP.

BANGKOK - A "closed for maintenance" sign hangs near Bangkok's historic Democracy Monument. Thailand's new military leader says he, too, is repairing the country's democratic institutions after seizing power on 22 May.

Small anti-coup protests have garnered much media attention, amid international condemnation of General Prayuth Chan-ocha's action. But for many in Bangkok, the sight of troops on the streets is a welcome one after seven months of sometimes violent political turmoil that snarled up the city.

"Courage, my child," said an elderly woman wearing an "I love army" T-shirt, one of a group handing flowers and water to troops guarding a Bangkok army facility under the sweltering sun, as she gave a pink rose to a soldier.

In a country where loyalty to religion, monarchy and homeland are drummed into the collective psyche as the pillars of unity, pro-establishment groups see the troops as guardians of national cohesion.

Since the army toppled fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006, Thailand has been sharply divided between his supporters in the poorer north and northeast and the traditional establishment in the capital and the south.

Middle class voters in Bangkok mostly favour the establishment. Those Reuters spoke to at a pro-army gathering on Tuesday said they approved of the coup if it meant getting rid of Thaksin's influence.

They say governments led by the populist tycoon and his supporters condoned widespread nepotism and corruption and drained Thailand's coffers of billions of dollars to shore up populist policies designed to appeal to rural voters.

"When people are sick they need medicine. It might be a bitter pill but we need to swallow it," said Pak Preecha, 30, a businessman, as around 40 coup supporters handed out Thai flags near Democracy Monument and sang the national anthem with gusto.