Seven seriously hurt in Bangkok blast; military urges end to crisis

BANGKOK Sun Jan 19, 2014 9:34am EST

1 of 3. A man displays a shirt damaged in an explosion near Victory Monument in Bangkok January 19, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Paul Barker

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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Twenty-eight people were wounded, seven seriously, in explosions on Sunday at a camp of anti-government protesters in Bangkok, the latest violence in a prolonged political crisis dividing the country and threatening the Thai economy.

The explosion comes a day after the military urged both sides to settle their differences in the more than two-month long dispute, in which protesters are trying to bring down the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

"There were 28 people injured from the blast at the Victory Monument," Suphan Srithamma, director general of the Bangkok Emergency Medical Centre, told reporters. "Among these 7 people were seriously injured."

Witnesses said they heard two explosions.

"The first blast I heard was from behind the stage," said Teerawut Utakaprechanun, who told Reuters Television he had been turning out for the protests every day.

"People were looking around. I saw the security guards running after a suspect. After one minute I heard another bomb blast."

On Friday night, one man was killed and 35 protesters were wounded in a grenade explosion in the capital. That takes to nine the death toll since the protests started in November.

They form the latest episode in an eight-year conflict pitting Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against poorer, mainly rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, the self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The protesters accuse Thaksin of nepotism and corruption, and aim to eradicate the political influence of his family by altering electoral arrangements, though in ways they have not spelt out, along with other political reforms.

The firebrand leader of the anti-government protests, Suthep Thaugsuban, spent much of Sunday leading thousands in a march through Bangkok demanding that Yingluck resign, and collecting bundles of cash from supporters in the streets in what has become a trademark of his public appearances.

However, there are signs the protests against the government could be running out of steam. The government has allowed protesters to take over key buildings without confrontation and, crucially, the military has so far remained neutral.

"Now all of us need to help each other in taking care of our own nation," supreme armed forces commander Thanasak Patimapakorn told reporters after Saturday's Army Day parade.

"The relationship between the government and the army is normal ... We need to respect law and order. I myself respect the law and I respect all sides and I request that all sides should come together and talk to find a solution," he said.

Separately, the Bangkok Post daily quoted Thanasak as saying he had no interest in becoming prime minister and acting as mediator.

Speculation has been rife that the military might step in to end the impasse, which is beginning to take its toll on Southeast Asia's second-largest economy.

The army has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years of on-off democracy, but has kept out of the fray this time.

"Please, my fellow countrymen, please rise up and do our job, which is to stop this wicked government from functioning," Suthep said late on Saturday, urging protesters to target government buildings across the country and prevent civil servants from working.

But there is little sign that the movement is spreading beyond the capital and into the countryside, where Yingluck has her political power base.

She has called an election on February 2, which the main opposition Democrat Party has said it will boycott. Even if it did contest the election, most political analysts say Yingluck's Puea Thai Party would almost certainly win.

Strong rural support has enabled Thaksin or his allies to win every election since 2001.

The protesters accuse Thaksin and his sister of corruption, and want Yingluck to step down to make way for an unelected "people's council" to push through broad political reforms.

The latest demonstrations are the biggest since pro-Thaksin protesters paralyzed Bangkok in April and May 2010. That movement ended with a military crackdown and more than 90 people, mostly protesters, were killed.

Pro-government "red shirt" protesters have stayed outside Bangkok this time, limiting the risk of factional clashes.

(Writing by Jonathan Thatcher; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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Comments (5)
DShark wrote:
maybe the police and military can do their jobs and protect the democratically elected govt and arrest the terrorists trying to conduct a coup and damage the economy of Thailand?

Jan 19, 2014 1:16am EST  --  Report as abuse
Guildenstern wrote:
The faster this ridiculous yellow-shirt “movement” fades away, the better for Thailand, democracy, and all the citizens of that country.

Jan 19, 2014 2:02am EST  --  Report as abuse
Opal.z wrote:
On Friday 17th January caretaker PM Yingluck Shinawatra invited around 15 foreign journalists to interview her. At around the time she was being interviewed a grenade was thrown into a group of demonstrators protesting against her government. Ten minutes after the explosion Yingluck’s security division announced the explosive was thrown by the protestors themselves. Any intelligent person would understand that it was far too soon for an investigation to have been made and blame apportioned. Even now this terror by bombing against the protestors is continuing.

The Puea Thai party were elected, but it does not mean the process was free and fair; many dictators have come from elections, for example Saddam Hussein when he was in power engineered elections so he could claim a mandate; nobody dared oppose him. Elections are a fundamental part of the democratic process, but in themselves do not guarantee democracy.

A major factor of the Puea Thai parties success was on the back of their undeliverable corrupt populist policies which have caused catastrophe to the country. One example is the rice pledging policy which tempted the majority of the rural Thai farmers to vote for Puea Thai with a promise to be paid even more than the world market price for their crops. To date most farmers have not been paid and have suffered severely. Yingluck, ministers and administrators of this policy are being investigated by the Thai National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for corruption.

Reform of the Thai political system is urgently needed. Once completed it does not matter even if Puea Thai is re-elected, as long as corruption has been eradicated from the system and the country follows true democratic principles.

The protests are a form of peaceful unarmed civil disobedience in response to the corrupt practices of an authoritarian government. It is a civil right enjoyed by all citizens in a free and democratic country.

The Washington Post has published an article urging President Obama to intervene with the Thai protests. With respect, this is a domestic matter, which the international community struggles to understand. If you think the American President can interfere, then why not The Thai military step in instead. All civil servants and military personnel who are paid from the country’s taxes should consider it their duty and responsibility to join the peaceful civil disobedience against this flawed regime. Similarly Yingluck continuing in office presents a clear and present danger to Thai people; if she really cares for her people she should step down and allow reform to take place to end this catastrophe.

Jan 19, 2014 4:21am EST  --  Report as abuse
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