Police explosive experts yesterday defused a powerful bomb hidden in a car near the residence of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and charged an army lieutenant in an alleged plot against the Thai leader, police and officials said.
Thaksin said he knew who was behind the plot but that he wouldn't name the masterminds publicly. He fired a military general who was deputy head of a key intelligence agency and who police said employed the suspect as his driver.
Lieutenant Thawatchai Klinchana, an officer with the Internal Operations Security Command, was charged with illegal possession of an explosive device, police Lieutenant General Montree Jamroon told a press conference.
He said more charges would be slapped on Thawatchai as the investigation continued.
Colonel Kosol Ngampramuan, chief of the bomb squad, said a 22kg bomb and 10 sticks of dynamite were found in a car belonging to Thawatchai, who was seized after fleeing from the vehicle. The explosives were defused and the vehicle was towed to a safe location.
Police said the vehicle had been driven back and forth past Thak-sin's residence and a security guard for the prime minister urged police to chase and stop it.
Lieutenant General Jumphon Manmai, chief of the National Intelligence Bureau, said the powerful bomb was primed for an explosion.
"From investigating the path that the car took, we believe it was intended to assassinate the prime minister," he said.
Government spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee said Thaksin reacted calmly to the report of the bomb but fired General Pallop Pinmanee, deputy chief of the Internal Security Operations Command, because Thawatchai had served under him.
"This is the attempt of a group of people to harm the prime minister. The group has lost power, lost benefits," the spokesman said.
"The prime minister is not afraid but the government is imposing measures to prevent such unwanted incidents," he said, without elaborating.
Thaksin later told reporters that he sacked Pallop "because the position is not necessary now."
He did not elaborate.
During the interrogation, the suspect admitted being a driver for Pallop but did not confess to the attempted bombing, police said.
Meanwhile, campaigning for general elections officially began yesterday amid uncertainty over whether the polls can go ahead as planned and whether Thaksin will again seek the top job.
The royal decree ordering the election came into effect yesterday, signaling the beginning of a two-month campaigning period for polls scheduled for Oct. 15.
Thais are hoping that the election will end months of political turmoil and that a government will be formed by the end of the year.