Two explosions shook an anti-government demonstration site in Thailand’s capital yesterday, wounding at least 28 people in the latest violence to hit Bangkok as the nation’s increasingly bloody political crisis drags on.
Police said the blasts near Victory Monument, in the north of the city, were caused by fragmentation grenades – the same kind that killed one man and wounded dozens Friday in a similar explosion targeting protest marchers.
The demonstrators, who control several small patches of Bangkok, are vying to overthrow prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government and derail elections to be held on 2 February, which she called to quell the crisis. The protest movement has refused to negotiate and the rising casualty toll has only deepened the deadlock.
Witnesses said the explosions occurred about two minutes apart. The first blast went off about 100-200 meters from a stage set up by protesters. The second went off near a row of vendors selling anti-government T-shirts in the street.
Protest leader Thaworn Senniem said the attacker, a man, was aiming at him but the first grenade bounced off a tree and exploded near protesters. He said the suspect ran, threw a second grenade, and was chased down an alley, where he fled on a motorcycle.
Although the vast majority of Bangkok remains calm, political violence nearly every day over the last week has kept the city of 12 million on edge and raised fears hostilities are only just beginning.
On Friday, a grenade hurled at marching demonstrators in central Bangkok killed one man and injured dozens. Then late on Saturday, a gunman opened fire on protesters in the capital’s Lad Prao district, seriously wounding a 54-year-old volunteer guard who was shot in the back.
There are conflicting theories about who is behind the unrest. Demonstrators blame the government and its supporters, who in turn accuse protesters of staging the attacks to pressure the military or judiciary to intervene.
Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said “both sides of Thailand’s political divide use violence and spin to serve their political goals”.
Thailand’s army has staged about a dozen successful coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.
The last coup, in 2006, toppled then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra – Yingluck’s brother – and touched off a societal schism that in broad terms pits a poor northern majority who back the Shinawatras against an urban-based elite backed by the army and staunch royalists who see Yingluck’s family as a corrupt threat to the traditional structures of power.
Yingluck’s opponents – a minority that can no longer win at the polls – argue the Shinawatras are using their electoral majority to impose their will and subvert democracy.
Yesterday’s blast wounded 28 civilians, five of them critically, according to the Erawan Medical Centre. Sunai called on police to find the perpetrators, saying that “up until now, we haven’t seen any serious investigation into these attacks”.