The military coup in Thailand has provoked strong reaction from members of U.S. Congress who have viewed the country as an important example of democracy in East Asia and a key ally of the United States.

As the leaders of the coup continue to consolidate their hold on the country, the challenges events pose for U.S. policy is becoming increasingly clear.

The coup leaders in Bangkok banned political activities and barred electronic media from broadcasting negative reports, after annulling the Thai Constitution, while asserting their actions were supported by Thailand's king.

On Capitol Hill, a hearing of the House Asia-Pacific Subcommittee took place amid the latest news reports.

Congressman Jim Leach, the panel's chairman, describes the coup as a distressing setback for democracy in the region:

"My sense is that Washington and the world were genuinely shocked by this stunning development, based on the assumption that political differences, however, stark, would ultimately be resolved by the Thai people in a peaceful and democratic way," said Mr. Leach.

Catharin Dalpino, Southeast Asia expert at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, views the Thailand coup in the context of bilateral policy challenges facing the United States in coming months.

"One is trying to craft an appropriate response to the coup in Thailand this week," she said.  "It is not easy, given the circumstances.  We obviously want to maintain the fundamentals of our relationship with Thailand, it is a treaty ally, but we also want to make sure that we appropriately encourage its democratic development."

Dalpino calls the situation in Thailand very complicated, and a challenge to U.S. policies of democracy promotion.

Earlier this week, two other lawmakers reacted to developments in Thailand.

Congressman Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, used a speech on the floor of the House [of Representatives] to urge the Bush administration to take a clear stand:

"If [Thai] military forces succeed, it should be the policy of out State Department to terminate all U.S. assistance to Thailand," said Mr. Kirk.  "And it should be the policy of our Treasury Department to undermine the baht, the Thai currency. It should be the policy of the Department of Defense to cease all military contact with the Thai military. And it should be the policy of our government in general to undermine military rulers in Thailand and return a democratically-elected prime minister to office."

Republican Senator Kit Bond had these remarks on the floor of the Senate.

"It is clear that for the cause of the country and the region, the constitutional process must be restored in Thailand and an election date set for a new democratic government very shortly," he said.

That is precisely what U.S. officials are calling for, as the State Department confirmed it is reviewing assistance programs for Thailand while monitoring events closely.