Dozens injured in bomb attack on Thai protesters
Protesters and government officials both claim to be victims as tensions escalate
Yarit Thungsawan, who was injured in the attack, speaks to reporters outside Ramathibodi Hospital in Bangkok on Friday (photo by Philip Bader)
A bomb attack wounded dozens of people at an opposition protest march in Thailand's capital on Friday, sending tensions soaring following weeks of mass rallies aimed at overthrowing the government.
The kingdom has been periodically rocked by political bloodshed since former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was overthrown by royalist generals in a coup seven years ago.
His sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, has faced more than two months of street demonstrations aimed at forcing her government from office and installing an unelected "people's council".
The authorities and the demonstrators both blamed each other for the blast, which was apparently caused by a grenade-type device thrown from an empty building on Banthat Tong Road west of National Stadium.
The anti-government movement said the explosion happened shortly before rally leader Suthep Thaugsuban was due to pass.
"The bomb went off about 30 metres from Suthep," protest spokesman Akanat Promphan said. "Then his bodyguards escorted him back to a rally stage."
Television footage showed several people lying on the ground as ambulances rushed away the wounded. Protesters were seen searching nearby buildings for the attackers.
Anuchat Kaew Kiachut, 53, from Sura Thani province, was part of the security detail for Suthep and witnessed the attack.
“After the explosion, I knelt down on the street and saw five people injured in the head and arms and bleeding heavily,” he said outside Ramathibodi Hospital, where several of the injured were taken for treatment.
“The street was very narrow, and there was an abandoned building there. The explosive device was thrown from a window in that building,” he said.
The city's Erawan emergency centre said 31 people were hurt, including one with severe injuries.
Yarit Thungsawan, 46, from Nakhon Si Thammarat province, and also a member of Suthep’s security team, received shrapnel wounds in the right arm and leg.
“It is so terrible that something like this could happen to our people,” Yarit said outside Ramathibodi Hospital after receiving treatment for his injuries.
Eight people have been killed and hundreds wounded in street violence since the protests began.
Demonstrators, backed by the country's royalist establishment, have occupied major intersections in the capital since Monday in what they have dubbed the "Bangkok shutdown".
There have been a series of drive-by shootings at rally sites and grenade attacks on the houses of opposition politicians that both the demonstrators and the government have blamed on each other.
In an effort to ease tensions and prevent further violence, former Democrat Party MP Thankun Isara took the stage in Pathumwan on Friday with Jesuit Fr Vichai Phoktavi to urge protesters to adhere strictly to non-violent forms of protest.
“The most important thing for our struggle is to be non-violent,” said Fr Vichai after his address to the crowd and as reports emerged of the attack on Suthep's procession.
“We will be provoked by a lot of violence. What they want is to provoke our anger and make us return that violence,” he said.
Fr Vichai said the Church had so far taken a cautious approach to the political stalemate, fearing retribution as a small minority in predominantly Buddhist Thailand.
“The Bishops’ Conference of Thailand has now issued a statement saying that in this kind of situation, it is our duty as Christians to get involved,” he said.
“We have a duty to teach the people about the Church’s teaching on non-violence.”
The protests were triggered by a failed amnesty bill that could have allowed Thaksin to return without going to jail for a past corruption conviction.
The demonstrators accuse the billionaire telecoms tycoon-turned-politician of controlling his sister's government from his base in Dubai.
Thaksin has strong electoral support in northern Thailand, but he is reviled by many southerners, Bangkok's middle class and members of the royalist establishment.
Yingluck has called an election for February 2 in an effort to defuse the deepening crisis but the main opposition Democrat Party is boycotting the polls, which they fear will only return the Shinawatra family to power.
"I think the election will be the answer," Yingluck told foreign reporters on Friday before the blast, saying that her family was "one of the victims".
"We just do our job. So that is why (an) election will be the only way to clear out our family," she said.
Yingluck is also facing several legal moves that experts say could potentially bring down her government.
On Thursday the National Anti-Corruption Commission launched an investigation into possible negligence of duty by Yingluck in connection with a controversial subsidy scheme for rice farmers.
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