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Bangkok Dangerous: Bombs, Sleaze & Paralysis

Bangkok Dangerous: Bombs, Sleaze & Paralysis


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- A series of deadly bombings, including Thursday's (November 20) attack which killed one person and injured 29 others, have shattered this Buddhist-dominated capital's polite, care-free ambiance, and worsened the paralysis within Thailand's besieged government.

Many Thais fear more bloodshed will result because of a three- month-long insurrection by thousands of anti-government protestors, who are illegally surrounding the prime minister's ornate office building.

Unable or unwilling to force the protestors from occupying the Government House complex, an embarrassed Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat installed chairs, desks, telephones and other levers of power in a V.I.P. lounge at Bangkok's former international airport, where his Cabinet meets each week.

After the police and military refused to oust the protestors from Government House, an unknown attacker fired a grenade on Thursday (November 20) over a wall, killing one protestor and injuring 29 others.

After the 3:30 a.m. explosion, police still did not enter the site, claiming the protestors would rebel and force a confrontation resulting in more casualties.

Medical staff removed blood-splattered, injured people on gurneys connected to hand-held intravenous drips, for treatment in nearby hospitals.

The explosion's shrapnel ripped the throat of a 48-year-old man, who died.

"Thailand is not Iraq. I urge everyone not to resort to violence," Bangkok Police Chief Gen. Jongrak Jutanond told reporters.

The attack came when most protestors were asleep, or listening to live music, while camped on the front lawn of the gated Government House, where they earlier established big tents, a large stage, electric fluorescent lighting, loudspeakers, kitchens, toilets, and bodyguards to secure their siege.

"I was listening to the music when I heard a big bang. I ran to the stage, and turned back to see several people lying on the ground," Wimonwan Pranratsmee, a 42-year-old injured woman, told reporters.

Security forces said an M-79 stun grenade was shot from a nearby building.

"This will be the last bomb attack on us. The next one will be on our opponents," a protest spokesman, Anchalee Paireerak, told supporters without elaborating.

A handful of shootings and small bomb attacks around the site, during recent weeks, has rattled the protestors and injured several other people.

Eight Israeli-designed Uzi submachine guns, plus 1,789 bullets for .38 pistols, disappeared from Government House's locked security depot while protestors have been occupying the building, said government spokesman Natthawut Saikua on Wednesday (November 19), the Bangkok Post reported.

Government cash, computers, telecommunications equipment, cameras, and other items also vanished from locked offices, Natthawut said.

Some protestors have been arrested in recent days, allegedly carrying weapons.

Mild-mannered Somchai, 61, became prime minister on September 17, but he is not their only enemy.

Their hatred is also directed at a former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a bloodless military coup in September 2006, and all of his political allies.

The junta froze more than two billion US dollars of Thaksin's fortune, claiming he amassed some of his wealth through corruption, when he ruled for more than five years, after being re-elected twice.

Thaksin's colleagues, who formed a People Power Party, now control Thailand atop a coalition government.

In self-exile, Thaksin, 59, and his powerful wife Pojaman based themselves in England.

But they were stripped of their British visas earlier this month, after a Bangkok court convicted the pair in August for a corrupt real estate deal, and sentenced him to two years in jail.

The brash, capitalist-minded couple divorced several days ago, sparking speculation that Pojaman was either miserable at their downward spiral, or they were trying to divide their remaining fortune because it may be seized soon.

Some people have asked why the couple were not arrested by Thai officials when they walked into the Thai consulate in Hong Kong to finalize their divorce.

As international fugitives, the couple are reportedly still able to travel on red-covered diplomatic Thai passports, perhaps because Thaksin's sister is the wife of Prime Minister Somchai.

The anti-government protestors are cloaked under a deceptively named People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) banner.

Their leaders oppose Thailand's one-man, one-vote system of democratic elections, and demanded most politicians be appointed.

The PAD include royalists, some military factions, frustrated tycoons, a politicized radical Buddhist sect which opposes alcohol and abortion, plus many from among Bangkok's wealthy elite and middle- class, who cheered the 2006 coup.

They describe Thaksin's previous landslide election victories as the result of impoverished rural masses ignorantly embracing his sinister populist polices of inexpensive health care, easy loans, and corrupt hand-outs.

Thaksin's defenders demand his reinstatement, insisting his opponents cannot win elections because they ignore and exploit the poor.

Thailand's dizzying spectacle of violence, sleaze and paralysis has also weakened its international military commitments.

Thailand is a non-NATO military ally of America, and the prime minister is also Bangkok's defense minister.

But Somchai could not host a November 23-27 Bangkok meeting of defense ministers, representing countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

"We were afraid Mr. Somchai may not be ready, so we decided to postpone the meeting," Defense Ministry spokesman Pirapong Manakij said on Sunday (November 16).

ENDS

*************

Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of "Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism, and his web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent

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