Mon, Dec 01, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Grenade attacks injure 51 in Bangkok

RIVAL FACE-OFFThai police ordered stubborn airport protesters to disperse as thousands of pro-government supporters flocked to the capital for a rally last night

AGENCIES , BANGKOK

Thousands of pro-government supporters rally in Bangkok yesterday. Their demonstration raised fears of clashes with anti-government activists besieging the airports.

PHOTO: AFP

Grenade attacks targeting Thai anti-government protesters injured at least 51 people yesterday, stoking tensions as police ordered the protesters to disperse, banning gatherings of more than five people and warning that offenders would be jailed or fined.

The blasts came hours before tens of thousands of red-clad pro-government supporters began their own rally in central Bangkok, their first significant show of strength since the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) launched its “final battle” last Monday to unseat the government.

In the latest violence, attackers lobbed a grenade at the offices of Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, which the PAD protest movement occupied in August.

Emergency services said 49 people were wounded.

“Whatever happens, we will fight,” senior PAD leader and retired general Chamlong Srimuang told reporters at the site.

Hours later, a blast outside the domestic Don Muang airport injured two passers-by, police said. A grenade was also found at the offices of a party in the ruling coalition, but it did not go off.

Flights in and out of Don Muang and Suvarnabhumi International airport have been paralyzed since Thursday and Tuesday respectively by the PAD siege. Police said fresh talks had started at both airports. But they later issued a new order to protesters at Don Muang, warning that they faced two years in jail if they did not disperse.

“Time is running out but we still have time to find a solution. Police will work with compromise, no force, no weapons,” said Pongsapat Pongcharoen, assistant to the national police chief.

At Suvarnabhumi, PAD guards were still entrenched behind barricades of tires, wooden stakes and razor wire. They had armed themselves with golf clubs, sticks and other weapons. There was a thin police presence at the cordon around the airport.

The government is shuttling tourists to U-Tapao, a naval airbase as an alternative landing site for airlines, but travelers have complained of massive delays and confusion.

Meanwhile, thousands of rural poor streamed into Bangkok yesterday to attend the pro-Thaksin Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD) rally.

By early evening, at least 20,000 people had gathered for the DAAD rally, most wearing red, which is associated with their cause. They carried Thai flags, red flags and red heart signs with pictures of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

“We gather here today to protect the democratic system, to say we don’t want a coup,” said Jatuporn Prompan, a leader of the pro-government group known as the “Red Shirts,” adding that they would stay there until Thursday.

Veera Musikapong, another DAAD leader, told the Nation newspaper that one focus of the rally would be the alleged bias of the courts.

The Constitutional Court has moved with uncharacteristic speed to conclude a vote fraud case tomorrow, widely expected to lead to the disbanding of Somchai’s People Power Party (PPP) and two other partners in the ruling coalition.

“It is obvious that there is interference with justice. It was well planned, and this is a concealed coup,” Veera said.

If the court dissolves the three parties, Somchai and other leaders would be barred from politics and many Cabinet ministers would have to step down.

The political chaos has worried Thailand’s neighbors, who are due to meet there this month for an ASEA summit. ASEAN chief Surin Pitsuwan said yesterday that a postponement may be wise.

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