The political standoff in Thailand’s capital turned deadly for the second time in two weeks Thursday when five grenade blasts in the business district killed at least one person and wounded 75.
Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban told a nationwide television audience that the M-79 grenades, one of which was detonated near a hotel, another near a bank on Silom Road, originated in a Bangkok park occupied by protesters. But in the confusion it was not immediately clear who was responsible.
“The government wants to offer condolences to the wounded,” said Suthep, who asked people to leave the area for their safety. “We have assigned more troops to the area because we are concerned of more clashes.”
Anti-government demonstrators, known as “Red Shirts” for the color of their apparel, have occupied parts of downtown Bangkok for six weeks demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva step down, dissolve parliament and leave the country.
Many of the protesters, drawn from rural and working-class towns, support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a coup in 2006 amid corruption allegations, some of which have since led to convictions. They decry the Abhisit administration as elitist and illegitimate, given that it came to power after a parliamentary rather than a popular vote.
Opposing them are the “Yellow Shirts” closely aligned with the monarchy, the army and other centers of power, who favor keeping things largely the way they are.
Supporters of a third group, less passionate about the political wrangling and underlying class struggle, feel inconvenienced by the shuttered shopping centers, the chilling of the tourism industry and the nation’s diminished reputation.
“At first I had no color, I was in the middle,” Pruchayada Thinnoros, 30, a bank worker in the Silom Road area, said before the blasts. “Then they came to this business district, affecting the lives of workers here. Just getting lunch, getting to work, is a challenge now.”
Red Shirts denied late Thursday that they were responsible for the grenade blasts, Channel 7 reported, quoting protest leader Nattawut Saikua.
Thailand’s tourism industry, its largest foreign-currency earner, accounted for 6.5% of gross domestic product in 2009. Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij recently predicted that tourism would be “decimated.”