Mon, Feb 24, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Political violence grows as 16 hurt in Bangkok blast

SPILLING BLOOD:A drive-by shooting on Saturday in eastern Thailand killed a young girl and injured dozens as ongoing protests fuel concern about greater unrest

AFP, BANGKOK

At least sixteen people were injured yesterday in a blast in a popular Bangkok shopping district, health officials said, further amplifying tensions a day after gunmen opened fire on an anti-government rally in eastern Thailand, killing a five-year-old girl.

Blood was splattered on the pavement as soldiers and police sealed off the area — opposite one of Bangkok’s biggest shopping malls and near several high-end hotels in the capital’s commercial heart — according to a photographer at the scene.

“Sixteen people have been reported injured,” the city’s Erawan Emergency Medical Service Center said, without giving further details of the extent of the injuries.

Police could not immediately confirm the cause of the blast, which took place late afternoon during an anti-government rally.

On Saturday night, gunmen in two pick-up trucks opened fire at a rally in a packed marketplace.

“A five-year-old girl was shot and died later while 30 other people were injured,” police lieutenant Thanaphum Naewani said.

He said the shooting in Khao Saming District of Trat Province, 300km east of the capital, was believed to be politically motivated.

Another five-year-old girl was among six people in critical condition after the shooting, Thailand’s Department of Medical Services Chief Supan Srithamma said yesterday.

Television footage showed dozens of upturned plastic chairs at the rally site and abandoned street stalls after people fled in panic.

Months of rallies aimed at toppling Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have been marred by sporadic gun and grenade attacks — mainly in Bangkok — by unknown assailants.

The violence has fueled fears of more widespread unrest in the kingdom, which has suffered bitter political divisions since a military coup ousted Yingluck’s older brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in 2006.

Hours after Saturday’s attack leaders of the pro-government movement met in Nakhon Ratchasima, the gateway to the Shinawatra-allied northeast, to discuss ways to bolster Yingluck’s crisis-hit administration.

The anti-government movement condemned the attack, blaming authorities for failing to protect rally-goers.

“Weapons of war were used in an act of planned and organized terror,” protest spokesman Akanat Promphan said.

Both sides have traded blame for sparking previous clashes, including a gunbattle between police and protesters in Bangkok’s historic heart earlier this month which left five people dead — including a policeman — and dozens wounded.

Seventeen people have been killed, both protesters and policemen, and hundreds injured in clashes and attacks linked to demonstrations.

Most of the recent violence has taken place in or around Bangkok, where opposition protesters are carrying out a self-styled “shutdown” of several key intersections across the city, although in dwindling numbers.

Yingluck’s besieged government last week suffered another blow when a court banned it from using force against peaceful demonstrators, severely cramping its powers to handle the protests and mounting violence.

In addition to the street protests, the embattled prime minister is also under intense pressure from a series of other legal challenges.

She faces charges of neglect of duty over a controversial rice subsidy scheme that could see her removed from office.

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