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Chinese Mandarin
Thai speaking
Languages Thai (Siamese), Chinese, English
Capital Bangkok
Other main cities Nonthanburi, Chiang Mai
Area (km2) 514,000
Population 61,230,874
Currency Baht
History of Thailand
Thailand occupies the western half of the Indochinese peninsula and the northern two-thirds of the Malay Peninsula in southeast Asia. Its neighbors are Burma on the north and west, Laos on the north and northeast, Cambodia on the east, and Malaysia on the south. Thailand is about the size of France.

The Thais first began settling their present homeland from the Asian continent in the 6th Century A.D., and by the end of the 13th Century ruled most of the western portion. During the next 400 years, they fought sporadically with Cambodia and Burma. Formerly called Siam, Thailand has never experienced foreign rule.

The British gained a colonial foothold in the region in 1824, but by 1896 an Anglo-French accord guaranteed the independence of Thailand. A coup in 1932 demoted the monarchy to titular status and established representative government with universal suffrage.

At the outbreak of World War II, Japanese forces attacked Thailand. After 5 hours of token resistance Thailand yielded to Japan on December 8, 1941, subsequently becoming a staging area for the Japanese campaign against Malaya.

Following the demise of a pro-Japanese puppet government in July 1944, Thailand repudiated the declaration of war it had been forced to make in 1942 against Britain and the U.S.

By the late 1960s the nation's problems largely stemmed from conflicts brewing in neighboring Cambodia and Vietnam. Although Thailand had received $2 billion in U.S. economic and military aid since 1950, the collapse of South Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975 brought rapid changes in the country's diplomatic posture.

At the Thai government's insistence, the U.S. agreed to withdraw all 23,000 U.S. military personnel remaining in Thailand by March 1976.

On October 6, 1976, 3 years of civilian government ended with a military coup. Political parties, banned after the coup, gained limited freedom in 1980. The same year, the National Assembly elected General Prem Tinsulanonda as prime minister and further elections in 1983 and 1986 resulted in Prem continuing as prime minister over a coalition government.

Fleeing from Laos, Vietnam, and the genocidal regime of Cambodia's Pol Pot, refugees flooded into Thailand in 1978 and 1979. Despite efforts by the United States and other Western countries to resettle them, a total of 130,000 Laotians and Vietnamese were living in camps along the Cambodian border in mid-1980.

Military coups against the Prem government in 1981 and 1985 failed, but in 1991 a bloodless putsch led by General Suchinda Kraprayoon overthrew the democratic government on charges of corruption. Parliamentary elections in March 1992 gave more than half the seats to pro-military parties and in April, the top military commander was appointed prime minister.

A scandal over a land-reform program caused the fall of the government in May 1995. The prime minister dissolved Parliament and set a date for new elections. Voters in early July gave the largest number of seats in Parliament to the Thai Nation Party, whose leader moved quickly to form a coalition government.

A new draft constitution, calling for cabinet ministers to relinquish their parliamentary seats, came under fire in the early months of 1997 from a number of politicians.

Following several years of unprecedented economic growth, Thailand's economy, once one of the strongest in the region, collapsed under the weight of foreign debt in 1997. This downfall set off a chain reaction in the region, sparking the Asian currency crisis.

Although one of the first Asian economies to be affected, the Thai government quickly accepted restructuring guidelines as a condition of the International Monetary Fund's $17 billion bailout and by 1998, Thailand's economy, while far from completely recovered, appeared to be in better condition than that of many of its Asian neighbors.

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Thai History
Thai Speaking
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