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BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- The head of Thailand's army and newly declared leader said the military's coup d'etat was complete and promised power would be returned to the people as soon as possible.

In a nationally televised address Wednesday, Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin said the coup was necessary to end intense conflicts in Thailand's society that Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had created.

In his brief television address, Sonthi asked the Thai people to stay calm and support the coup leaders, The Associated Press reported.

Sonthi declared martial law, and international news channels such as CNN and the BBC were taken off the air.

On a TV station still under his government's control, however, Thaksin declared a state of emergency and insisted his government remained in charge of the armed forces and the capital.

He announced he was firing Sonthi and ordered him to report to the office of Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Vanasaditya.

Another deputy prime minister, Surakiart Sathirathai, told CNN that the supreme commander of Thailand's armed forces would be in charge of Bangkok. That officer, General Ruengroj Mahasaranont, has made no public statement since the coup was announced.

Tanks and troops patrolled Bangkok early Wednesday after the army said the military was taking control. ((Watch tanks roll through the streets of Bangkok -- 3:53)

In his first public appearance, Sonthi repeated earlier statements that the newly created Council of Administrative Reform had revoked the Constitution.

He said Thaksin's policies had created serious rifts that needed to be healed and said Tuesday's coup was necessary after months of political turmoil.

Sonthi claimed power while the prime minister was at the United Nations in New York.

Thaksin, however, insisted his government remained in control even as Sonthi and the chiefs of the armed forces met King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

With tanks and troops on the streets of Bangkok, the prime minister canceled his scheduled Tuesday evening speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York and skipped the traditional luncheon of world leaders that opens the session.

Through a spokesman, Sonthi said that he and the Party of Democratic Reform -- a previously unknown opposition party -- had taken power with the support of the country's armed forces.

The coup leaders declared Wednesday a holiday, with schools, banks and the country's stock market closed.

Troops on the streets adorned their weapons with yellow ribbons in a sign of loyalty to the king, and tanks were parked outside the government headquarters, which houses Thaksin's office.

International reaction
Thailand, a longtime U.S. ally, has had 17 coups since World War II. Rumors of an 18th had been swirling around Bangkok in recent weeks as Thaksin battled considerable pressure to step down.

International reaction to the coup was muted largely because details of the situation were scarce. (Full story)

John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cut short a meeting at the United Nations to try to get more information from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.

"We think it's important, in the short term, that we have peace in the streets in Bangkok, and that their constitutional processes be upheld," Bolton said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "This is not a practice to be encouraged."

The telecommunications billionaire has been accused of abusing the country's system of checks and balances and bending government policy to benefit his family's business. He had called elections in April, three years early.

But the country's constitutional court ruled April's vote was unconstitutional, and a new round of balloting has been scheduled for November.

Monday evening, Thaksin told members of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that he would be on the ballot in November's elections and serve as chairman of his party, but had not decided whether he would seek to remain prime minister.

Thaksin had been slated to address the General Assembly on Wednesday, but rescheduled his speech for Tuesday night before canceling. Meanwhile, a crowd of about 50 anti-Thaksin protesters gathered outside the Thai mission in New York on Tuesday afternoon, wearing yellow-colored clothing.

From CNN International

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