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 embattled administration were due to hold their own rally in central Bangkok, creating another potential flashpoint.
Foreign governments were racing to evacuate around 100,000 frustrated travellers stranded in the self-styled “Land of Smiles” by the five-day outbreak of civil unrest.
In the latest violence, attackers lobbed a grenade at the offices of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, which the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest movement occupied in August.
Emergency services said 49 people were wounded.
“Whatever happens, we will fight,” senior PAD leader and retired general Chamlong Srimuang told reporters at the site. An AFP correspondent saw a ragged hole in a tent caused by the blast.
Hours later, a blast outside the domestic Don Mueang airport injured 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 this month at the premier’s besieged offices killed two protesters and prompted the PAD to launch its “final battle” against the government a week ago.
Thai authorities used carrot and stick tactics Sunday to end the siege at Don Mueang and the larger Suvarnabhumi international airport amid fears of political violence — and concerns that more bloodshed could spark a coup.
Police said fresh talks had started at both airports. But they later issued a new order to protesters at Don Mueang, warning that they faced two years in jail if they did not disperse.
“Time is running out but we still have time to find a solution. Police will work with compromise, no force, no weapons,” said Pongsapat Pongcharoen, assistant to the national police chief.
At Suvarnabhumi, PAD guards were still entrenched behind barricades of tyres, wooden stakes and razor wire. They have armed themselves with golf clubs, sticks and other weapons.
But there was a thin police presence at the cordon around the airport, and most protesters inside the gleaming terminal building opened in 2006 were sleeping, AFP correspondents said.
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 Somchai’s brother-in-law.
Supporters of the group — a loose coalition who wear yellow to show their loyalty to the king and have backing from elements in the military, palace and urban middle classes — says it won’t back down 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 apparent stalemate has prompted speculation that the rival factions are waiting for other events scheduled this week.
The Constitutional Court is due Tuesday to wrap up a case that could see the ruling party disbanded for fraud and Somchai and other leaders banned from politics.
Meanwhile, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, revered as semi-divine by most Thais, is due to give a birthday-eve speech on Thursday. A constitutional monarch, he has waded into politics on only a handful of occasions.
Angry tourists, meanwhile, struggled to escape Thailand through the Vietnam War-era naval base at U-Tapao, 190km from Bangkok, where a handful of flights have been operating since Friday.
“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.” – AFP