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Grenade attack wounds dozens as tensions rise

Video by Sophie DAVIDSON

Latest update : 2008-11-30

A grenade attack on protesters occupying the Thai premier's office wounded at least 51 people Sunday, further raising tensions. Police have tried to end an opposition blockade of Bangkok's airports but have promised not to use weapons.

(AFP) - Grenade attacks targeting Thai anti-government protesters injured at least 51 people Sunday, stoking tensions as police struggled to end a paralysing blockade of Bangkok's airports.
   
The blasts came hours before thousands of supporters of the kingdom's embattled administration were due to hold their own mass rally in the centre of the capital, creating another potential flashpoint.
   
The five-day outbreak of civil unrest has caused mounting concern among foreign governments, with around 100,000 frustrated travellers trapped in the self-styled "Land of Smiles".
   
Police have held off launching an assault on the protesters occupying two Bangkok airports amid fears of a repeat of political violence that left two people dead last month, and concerns that more bloodshed could spark a coup.
   
In the latest violence, attackers lobbed a grenade at Government House, the prime minister's cabinet offices which the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) occupied in August. Emergency services said 49 people were wounded.
   
"Whatever happens, we will fight, we will not step back," senior PAD leader and retired general Chamlong Srimuang later told reporters at the site.
   
Hours later, a blast hit outside the small domestic Don Mueang airport, injuring two passers-by, police said. A grenade was also found at the offices of a party in the ruling coalition but did not go off.
   
Grenade attacks earlier this month at Government House killed two protesters and prompted the PAD to launch what it called its "final battle" against the government last Sunday.
   
Demonstrators took control of the main Suvarnabhumi international airport on Tuesday and Don Mueang, which is smaller and handles domestic flights, on Wednesday, cutting air links with the rest of the world.
   
Police sent 2,000 officers to cordon off Suvarnabhumi on Saturday, while the PAD's militia have set up barricades of tyres, wooden stakes and razor wire. They have also armed themselves with golf clubs, sticks and other weapons.
   
Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat is now governing from the northern city of Chiang Mai, amid tensions with the army in a country that has seen 18 coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.
   
The royalist PAD accuses Somchai's government of being a corrupt puppet for exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006. Thaksin is the current premier's brother-in-law.
   
Supporters of the group -- a loose coalition which wears yellow to show its loyalty to the king and has backing from elements in the military, palace and urban middle classes -- refuses to end its siege until Somchai quits.
   
Separately, a pro-government group known as the "Red Shirts", due to the clothes they wear to differentiate themselves from their rivals, said it hoped to gather up to 10,000 people in Bangkok on Sunday.
   
The site of the rally is just four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the protesters at Government House. Sporadic clashes have broken out between pro- and anti-government groups, with one person dying in a fight in Chiang Mai this week.
   
Fears of large scale clashes, either between police and protesters or the so-called Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts, have precluded a decisive end to the crisis.
   
Somchai on Friday dismissed the national police chief for failing to take on the demonstrators, whose actions have cost Southeast Asia's second largest economy billions of dollars.
   
Rumours of a coup swept the country after Somchai rejected calls from the army chief to call snap elections, but General Anupong Paojinda said military action would not solve the rifts in Thai society.
   
Frustrated tourists meanwhile struggled to escape Thailand through a Vietnam War-era naval base as airport authorities, where a handful of flights have been operating since Friday.
   
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Sunday that the situation was "very frustrating for us and it's very frustrating for those stranded Australians."
   
"They have killed tourism in this country, the authorities should go do something," said tourist Danny Mosaffi, 57, from New York City. "Nobody is going to come here."

Date created : 2008-11-30

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