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Thursday, 22 April 2010 22:42

Explosions rock Bangkok

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Bangkok, April, 22 : At least one person was killed and 50 more injured by a series of grenade attacks in Bangkok's central business district Thursday, pumping up tensions in a city already roiled by a worsening standoff between armed forces and rival groups of political protesters.

Army and government officials said the explosions—at least five of them—were caused by M-79 grenades, representing a serious deterioration of the security situation in the Thai capital. The government said the attacks came from an encampment of antigovernment Red Shirt protesters.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva called a meeting with security officials after the blasts to discuss how to handle the worsening crisis.

In recent weeks, several M-79 grenades have been fired at government buildings as tens of thousands of red-clad protesters have massed in Bangkok to demand that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call new elections. But this is the first time the attacks have killed or caused widespread injury, and it is the first time grenades have been fired at targets in densely populated business areas crowded with commuters.

Television footage showed panicked passengers fleeing an elevated train station, where at least one of the explosions occurred. At an Au Bon Pain coffee shop near the luxury Dusit Thani Hotel, windows were smashed in the blast and a pool of blood slowly dripped down the polished steps outside while ambulances and pickup trucks rushed the injured to local hospitals.

Thailand's increasingly violent political conflicts have shown signs of a sharp escalation in recent weeks. On April 10, 25 people were killed in clashes between army forces and the Red Shirt protesters, many of them supporters of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup four years ago. In recent days, other demonstrators—this time supporters of the government—have staged lightning rallies around Bangkok.

On Wednesday evening, they clashed with Red Shirt protesters near the opening to Bangkok's iconic Silom Road, Thailand's equivalent to Wall Street and also home to several luxury hotels as well as the city's notorious Patpong strip of bars. On Thursday, the two groups clashed again as helicopters flew overhead.

Silom Road again was the site of trouble with Thursday night's blasts. Army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said five M-79 grenades were fired from launchers, and three fell on or through the roof of the Sala Daeng skytrain station at the heart of the bustling district while another fell near the Dusit Thani Hotel and another dropped and exploded near a bank. The government's central emergency monitoring center said a Thai male was killed, and at least 50 people were injured in the blasts.

Thursday's attacks could increase pressure on Thailand's armed forces to take aggressive action to end the Red Shirts' marathon protest on the streets of Bangkok. Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched into the city on March 12 from rural provinces to complain about what they say is the way Thailand's military and bureaucratic establishment interferes in politics and to call for new elections.

Urged on by Mr. Thaksin, who now lives overseas to avoid imprisonment on a 2008 corruption conviction, the Red Shirts moved to Bangkok's main shopping district around two weeks ago, forcing half-a-dozen shopping malls and a number of five-star hotels to close and angering many Bangkokians who make their living from tourism.

Army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda has repeatedly said he would avoid using force to clear out the demonstrators, who have fortified their encampment with sharpened bamboo spears and piles of rubber tires.

But anti-Thaksin protesters—including a yellow-wearing group that closed Bangkok's international airports for more than a week in 2008—have threatened to step into the conflict and push out the Red Shirts themselves if the army doesn't take firmer action.

 

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