Thailand Fears More Bloodshed After Grenade Attacks
Ron Corben | Bangkok 23 April 2010
Leaders from the anti-government protest movement in Bangkok deny being behind a grenade attack that killed at least one person and injured scores of others. Senior Thai officials say while it is hunting for those behind the attacks, it is also exploring ways to ease tensions in the capital.
Despite the new round of violence, the head of Thailand's army late Friday indicated that an immediate crackdown on the anti-government protesters would not solve the country's problem.
And red shirt officials were reported to be considering easing their demand for immediate elections. Instead of dissolving parliament now, they would accept dissolution in a month.
Those developments came a day after up to six grenades were fired into a pro-government rally in the Silom Road financial district, less than 100 meters from UDD barricades.
Some officials already have blamed anti-government protesters for the attack. But the United Democratic Front against Dictatorship denies any role, and says its red-shirt supporters set off fireworks only.
Baranaj Smutharak, spokesman for the governing Democrat Party, says the government's priority is to track down those responsible for the attack.
"I think the government rather than a crackdown on demonstrators are hunting down the terrorists which may or may not be among demonstrators in the same area," said Baranaj Smutharak. "So I think it's quite a separate operation altogether."
Friday afternoon, the police and red shirt red shirts agreed to pull back from their face off at Silom Road, easing fears of a new push to clear the protesters' camp in the Rajaprasong retail and hotel district.
Related video report by Daniel Schearf
Still many small businesses and banks on the street closed early, leaving the usually bustling area quiet. The Bangkok Skytrain, a major commuter system, shut down at 6 p.m., instead of midnight, leaving many workers struggling to find ways home.
Sunai Pasuk, representative in Thailand for Human Rights Watch, expects the government to remain cautious in dealing with the red shirts, hoping to avoid the human and financial cost of a crackdown.
"I don't think for the government there is any option but to be patient because the dispersal cannot be done without heavy casualties or damage," said Sunai Pasuk. "So the government cannot do anything but keep a cool head about everything."
Sunai says the one big concern is that vigilante groups of Bangkok residents, increasingly frustrated by six weeks of protests, may stir up violence. Businesses throughout the city have been hit, and tourist arrivals have plummeted. Thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars have been lost.
Peace groups are seeking a compromise, calling on the government to call early elections and to move on political reforms. Thai government sources say Prime Minister Abihist Vejjajiva is exploring options for talks with the UDD.
The United States urges both sides to avoid violence and to negotiate a solution. The U.S. and Australia Friday joined other countries in warning their nationals against traveling to Bangkok due to the threat of violence.
The political crisis, Thailand's most severe in 20 years, pits the government against supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who remains overseas to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.
The anti-government groups say Mr. Abihist's administration lacks legitimacy, having come to power after court rulings dismissed two pro-Thaksin governments.
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