Meanwhile in Thailand, protesters are still trying to oust prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, despite elections called for Feb 2. When asked if the military would stage its 12th coup to short-circuit any chaos created in the gap between the protesters and the government, General Prayuth Chan-ocha said: "That door is neither open nor closed."

The US embassy is taking it seriously but Shinawatra's government (who, under her brother Thaksin's leadership, has won every election since 2001), doesn't seem to be:

Thailand's government on Friday played down talk of a military coup ahead of a planned "shutdown" of the capital next week by protesters trying to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and said life would go on much as normal.

Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said it was alarmist of the U.S. embassy to advise its citizens on Friday to stock up on two weeks' supply of food and water ahead of what protest leaders say will be a prolonged siege of Bangkok.

"Maybe they worry too much ... People will live their normal life. Don't be afraid of things that will happen because we try to control the situation," he said.

Our Man in Bangkok reports that "martial law" is on the tip of everyone's tongue these days and the question of where the king (revered but probably suffering from his final illness) and the crown prince (the wildman Vajiralongkorn) are on all this, not least because the Thai press is muzzled when it comes to the royals. But here's a shot at some analysis:

Thaksin, now in self-exile in Dubai after being deposed by a coup in 2006, has long been regarded as a threat to the established royalist elites, largely because he is popular and created a power base not completely beholden to the entrenched establishment. A onetime policeman in the northern city of Chiangmai, he is regarded as a newly-rich upstart, a telecom tycoon whose rise to power in 2001 set in motion a process of trying to stop him that continues to this day.

The enormous wealth in the hands of the monarchy and the cozy imprimatur the king bestows on the system could be upended if Thaksin or his proxies control what will certainly be a wrenching period of mourning once the truly revered Bumbibol passes away. The situation is made more fragile because Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, the presumed successor, has in the past been regarded as close to Thaksin.