Thai protesters march on despite blast

January 19, 2014 - 7:01:51 am

Thai anti-government protesters march through main street during Bangkok Shutdown rally in Thailand yesterday.

BANGKOK:  Anti-government protesters marched defiantly through Thailand’s capital yesterday, with one group entering a police compound, undeterred by a grenade explosion the day before that wounded 35 demonstrators and killed one.

Friday’s blast sent tension rippling through Bangkok after several days of relative calm that had suggested the movement to close down the government and force the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was running out of steam.

It was unclear who was behind the attack on the protesters. Their firebrand leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, blamed the government and said the incident would not dent the morale of thousands who on Monday stepped up a two-month agitation, blockading key arteries of the city and occupying ministries.

The incident, which came two weeks before a general election, may have heightened the risk of a move by the Thai army to end an impasse that is starting to damage the economy. 

Boonyakiat Karavekphan, a political scientist at Ramkamhaeng University in Bangkok, said the attack had raised chances of “a significant clash between the protesters and groups they perceive to be their enemies, the police or forces loyal to the government, in order to provoke some sort of military reaction and speed up chances of a military intervention.”

The army has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years of on-off democracy, but it has tried to remain neutral this time, and many believe it will stay in its barracks.

At an Army Day parade in the capital, military chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said in a speech that it was the army’s duty to protect the country’s sovereignty, religions and the king, but he made no mention of the street protests.

Strong support from rural voters has enabled Thaksin or his allies to win every election since 2001 and Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party seems certain to win the vote set for February 2. But the protesters and opposition parties are boycotting the poll and want the prime minister to step down immediately.

The grenade hurled at demonstrators marching in the city centre on Friday injured 36. The Erawan Medical Center, which monitors Bangkok hospitals, said one of the injured, a 46-year-old man, died of bleeding during the night.

Suthep led a march near the site of Friday’s explosion.

Reuters

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