Protest leader expects more attacks; weapons found in deserted building
Violence heightened yesterday afternoon when a march by anti-government protesters in central Bangkok was hit by a grenade attack that left at least 36 people injured.
The blast was the first attack in broad daylight and occurred close to protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban. A total of 26 men and 10 women were taken to hospital by ambulance.
Members of the Police Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit said later that they believe the bomb was a Chinese-made grenade. It was thought to have been thrown from a deserted building on Banthad Thong Road into a crowd of protesters joining a march led by Suthep.
Some guards of the protest leaders claimed they had found a grenade safety pin in a deserted building, from which the bomb was reportedly thrown.
Yesterday’s incident was the latest in a series of violent attacks targeting the seven protest sites in the city and places belonging to supporters or sympathisers of the movement, including opposition politicians. Hand grenades and assault rifles were among the weapons used.
About half an hour after the attack, the government’s Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order warned members of the public and state officials against joining street protests organised by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).
CAPO said legal action would be taken against not only protest leaders but also ordinary protesters.
Reading a statement for a live broadcast, caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnog noted that under the Criminal Code the offence of insurrection carried severe penalties. He said any supporter of the protest movement, including those donating money, would be deemed to be violating the law.
His warning was also directed at state officials who take part in the protest or sympathise with the protesters. They would face not only disciplinary action but also criminal prosecution and the reputation of their family would be negatively affected, he warned.
Pracha did not mention the bomb attack in the statement but told reporters later that he had been informed about the incident.
There have been many marches without incident since the protest began in November. But with intense pressure on the government five days after the “Bangkok shutdown” began, analysts said pro-government supporters might want to deter people from joining rallies aimed at getting the caretaker PM to step down.
Suthep, who was not injured, was immediately taken away from the area by bodyguards.
The blast happened shortly before Suthep was due to march past the spot, according to PDRC spokesman Akanat Promphan.
“The bomb went off about 30 metres from Suthep and then his bodyguards escorted him back to a rally stage,” he was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.
There have been drive-by shootings by unknown assailants at rally sites and grenade attacks on the houses of opposition politicians, including Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra.
Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who is in charge of the CAPO, said yesterday that the attacks were plotted to incite violence.
“A movement has been set up to create a situation of bomb attacks against leaders’ houses and protesters,” he told reporters.
Satit Wongnongtaey, another protest leader and former Democrat MP, said he expected more attacks around the protest sites in the coming days.
Inside the deserted building, an assortment of war weapons was found in a room. Officers from the Army Ordnance Corps entered the building with TV camera crews and protester guards. In addition to the grenade safety pin, they found weapons, including unassembled parts of an M16 assault rifle, according to the pro-opposition Bluesky satellite-based television channel.
It reported that in the room there were also a refrigerator, clothes, a bath towel, food, and a red cap.
Meanwhile, Piyaman Tejapaibul, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said the bomb attack against anti-government protesters in Banthad Thong would have a negative impact on the tourism sector.
“Local travel agents with overseas partners have evaluated the reaction from their foreign clients when hearing about such violence, and how particular countries will increase the warning level to their people on coming to Thailand,” she said.
“However, the bomb attack will primarily affect the tourism industry in Thailand during the Chinese New Year period, which will run from the end of January to the beginning of February.”
The total number of Chinese tourists coming to Thailand this month is forecast at about 400,000.
Pornsilp Patcharintanakul, vice chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said the bomb attack on the procession led by People’s Democratic Reform Committee secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban at noon yesterday sent a signal that the political tension had escalated into violence. The incident might draw a greater number of demonstrators.