Jan. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Thai protesters accused the government of having “blood on its hands” after one man died and 37 people were injured in a bomb attack in Bangkok yesterday, raising concern violence may increase before an election scheduled for Feb. 2.
The blast near Chulalongkorn University in the center of Bangkok targeted a rally led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former opposition party lawmaker who has called for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government to be replaced by an unelected council that would reform politics before restoring democracy.
“This government has blood on its hands for being behind the blast,” Suthep said in a speech to supporters late yesterday, and pledged to continue rallies in Bangkok today. Suthep faces murder charges for overseeing a deadly crackdown on protesters in 2010 when he was deputy prime minister.
Suthep’s critics have said his movement aims to provoke violence to justify the intervention of the military in a repeat of a 2006 coup that toppled Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, from power. Demonstrators have occupied government ministries and blockaded seven of Bangkok’s busiest intersections over the past five days without being challenged by police, who are under orders from Yingluck to avoid clashes.
“There will definitely be more violence if the government continues to play it cool like nothing is happening,” said Jade Donavanik, dean of the Graduate School of Law at Bangkok’s Siam University. “They need to find out who is behind the attack or protesters will step up efforts to protect themselves. That will eventually force the military to step in to act as the peace-keeper.”
Yingluck has faced more than two months of protests aimed at erasing the influence of her brother. The government, police and military are united in efforts to prevent the protests turning violent and to ensure the election goes ahead, she told a group of foreign reporters yesterday. Eight people have been killed since the protests began Oct. 31.
An election is “the only way that we can hear the people,” Yingluck said, while repeating that she is open to talks with protesters. The Election Commission has urged the government to defer the vote until May, saying the political environment is too tense to proceed next month.
Allies of Thaksin have won the past five elections, including two since his ouster, on support from rural northern and northeastern regions. The protesters, mostly middle-class Bangkokians and Democrat party supporters from Thailand’s southern provinces, say Yingluck’s government is illegitimate and run from abroad by Thaksin, who faces a two-year jail term for corruption if he returns in a case he says was politically motivated.
The government rejected Suthep’s accusation that it was to blame for the attack. Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who is overseeing the response to the protests, questioned why organizers changed the rally’s route to pass by the abandoned buildings where the bombing occurred, and told reporters that he feared similar incidents may happen as groups attempt to derail the election.
Suthep’s former party, the Democrats, have lost every national election over the past two decades and plan to boycott next month’s poll.
Yingluck dissolved parliament on Dec. 9 and announced the election, a day after the Democrats resigned en masse to join the demonstrations, which at their peak drew more than 200,000 people. Protesters initially took to the streets in late October to oppose a proposed amnesty law that they said would benefit Yingluck’s brother, which the government later abandoned. The demonstrations then morphed into a broader movement to erase Thaksin’s political influence.
Yesterday’s blast occurred as protesters marched from Lumpini Park to their main demonstration site in the Pathumwan shopping district. Thai man Prakong Choochan, 46, died, according to a post on the website of Ramathibodi Hospital.
The injured were taken to four different hospitals, the Bangkok Emergency Medical Center said on its website, without giving details on their condition.
“There have been frequent violent incidents both day and night, creating losses to both protesters and state officials,” Winthai Suvaree, the deputy army spokesman, told reporters. “These actions pose a great danger to national security.”
The SET Index dropped 0.5 percent to 1,295.41 yesterday. The baht touched 32.655, the strongest level since Dec. 24, before erasing gains following the grenade attack.
“Most investors have become used to the Thai political turmoil,” Sompong Benjatapanun, an investment strategist at Aira Securities Pcl in Bangkok, said by phone after the blast. “It has become routine for Bangkok to have demonstrations, and people as well as investors are used to it.”
Government officials postponed a plan yesterday to negotiate directly with protesters blockading the Government Complex in northern Bangkok because of concern clashes may occur. Demonstrators gathered on Jan. 13 to block intersections in Bangkok including in its central business districts. Protester numbers, which tend to grow at weekends and after office hours, have been declining each day.
The government is seeking to take back Bangkok by defusing protests throughout the capital “soon,” Surapong said. “It is about time that we start to do that.”
Surapong said supporters of Thaksin, known as red shirts, will not confront rival protesters in Bangkok. “They try to protest or show their support outside the Bangkok area, so I think civil war will not happen here in Thailand,” he said.
More than 90 people were killed in 2010 when Suthep and Abhisit Vejjajiva, who was prime minister at the time, set up live fire zones and ordered the army to disperse pro-Thaksin red shirts occupying Bangkok’s shopping district.
“The prime minister has reiterated to security personnel to exercise restraint at all times and has instructed them to perform their duties in line with international standards as well as not to use any weapons,” Surapong said.
The protesters have told civil servants and soldiers that they must choose a side in the conflict. Their leaders’ refusal to negotiate with Yingluck, and mounting legal cases against government efforts to change the constitution and implement spending plans, have stoked rumors that the military may stage a coup, which the army chief hasn’t ruled out.
Yingluck couldn’t step aside completely even if she resigned, Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanjana told reporters yesterday. Under the constitution “even if the prime minister resigns, she still has to perform her duties until the next government comes in,” Pongthep said.
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