Sun, Aug 27, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Plot to kill Thai PM investigated

OPEN TO QUESTION Thailand's media has started to ask whether a bomb scare that was thought to target Prime Minister Shinawatra was a pre-election publicity stunt

AFP , BANGKOK

Thailand's army chief said yesterday that he has set up a panel to investigate an alleged bomb plot to assassinate Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra after an army officer was charged in the case.

Police have already charged an army lieutenant with illegal possession of explosives after they found a powerful bomb on Thursday in the trunk of a car parked near Thaksin's house.

They managed to defuse the potent mix of TNT, plastic explosives, fertilizer and fuel oil, claiming that they had foiled an attempt to kill the billionaire prime minister.

Thai media have reacted with skepticism to the claims that the bomb was part of an assassination plot, noting conflicting reports from police about when the bomb was discovered.

The army chief, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, said the military investigators would work with police to determine whether the suspect had planned to kill Thaksin.

normal procedure

"It is a normal procedure that if any army officer is accused of criminal offenses, the army sets up a special panel to investigate the allegation," Sonthi told reporters.

"The panel will seek relevant information from the police for the investigation, which will take some time to complete," he said.

Thaksin sacked a top general just hours after the bomb was found.

The controversial premier said on Friday that a group of up to four military officers had schemed to kill him.

General Panlop Pinmanee, the deputy chief of the powerful Internal Security Operations Command who was sacked by Thaksin, has denied any involvement.

Thai media have questioned whether the bomb scare was a political stunt designed to win sympathy for Thaksin ahead of another round of general elections set for Oct. 15.

The speculation has been fueled by the conflicting reports given by police when they first discovered the bomb.

varying accounts

Police initially gave varying accounts of how they found the car, how powerful the bomb was and whether the explosives were set to detonate.

They have since tried to tidy up their story and top government officials have insisted that the threat to Thaksin was real.

The bomb was found just as the campaigning began for the general election, the second national poll this year.

Thaksin's security had already been enhanced following scuffles between his supporters and groups opposing his administration.

deep tensions

The polls are meant to end months of political turmoil in Thailand but the discovery of the bomb drew worries about how deep the tensions run.

Thaksin, 57, survived months of peaceful street protests earlier this year that demanded his resignation over claims of corruption stemming from his family's US$1.9 billion sale of telecoms stock.

He called snap elections in April to end the protests. His party won, but the victory was undermined by a boycott by opposition parties.

The courts invalidated the results and set the stage for the new polls in October.

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