January 20, 2014 07:51
A daytime grenade attack on an anti-government rally site in Thailand has left more than two dozen wounded, pointing to an escalation in violence as political tensions rise. The bloodshed has led to senior army commanders calling for negotiations amid fears of further attacks by armed groups.
The attack Sunday at the anti-government rally site in central Bangkok came in the early afternoon when six men threw grenades, leaving at least 28 people wounded and taken to nearby hospitals.
The violence follows a grenade attack Friday on a march led by protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban that left three dozen wounded. One man later died in the hospital from his injuries.
Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist and security analyst at Chulalongkorn University, says the attacks reflect heightened tensions after more than two months of anti-government protests.
"The situation is getting more and more intense," said Panitan. "This is the second time I think the attack has been during the broad daylight and you see some reports suggesting that of the six suspects at least two of them can be identified -- there were several witnesses so the police need to work on that very quickly."
Panitan said the attack points to efforts by hardline groups to intimidate protestors at the largely peaceful rallies. Intelligence sources say the Thai military and police are seeking to track down several hundred men capable of launching attacks.
On Sunday, Supreme Armed Forces commander, General Tanasak Patimapragon, called on both sides to enter talks to avert a further escalation of violence.
The latest attack comes almost a week after Suthep and his People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) launched a campaign to "shut down" Bangkok and further pressure Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down and postpone general elections scheduled for February 2.
The PDRC has accused Yingluck's government of being under the control of her older brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
At rally sites Saturday night, thousands of protestors that gathered marked a vigil for the 46-year-old man who died after the Friday grenade attack. But protesters appeared emboldened. Businessman Preechapol Sereeviriyakul says despite the concerns, the anti-government campaign should press on.
"I feel bad about the death but we need to fight with the corruption and the government we need to get rid of the Shinawatra family that has power in Thailand because there are many projects that damage Thailand," he said.
Thaksin, ousted in a 2006 coup, has lived overseas since 2008 to avoid a jail term for corruption. The current protests began after the ruling Pheu Thai Party presented a blanket amnesty bill to parliament in October that was seen as favoring Yingluck's brother. The bill was later voted down by the Senate.
Thailand has been immersed in political violence for the past eight years, largely between pro- and anti-Thaksin supporters. Thaksin gained widespread support from the rural poor and urban working class, with a voting base backed by a movement known as Red Shirts.
Red Shirt protesters staged massive rallies in 2010 in central Bangkok against a Democrat Party-led government. A series of clashes and an army crackdown after two months of protests left more than 90 people dead -- mostly civilians -- and hundreds wounded. This time, the Thai army is more reluctant to intervene, fearing more bloodshed.
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