- The Washington Times - Monday, January 1, 2007

BANGKOK - Nine bomb blasts across Bangkok during New Year’s celebrations killed two persons, injuring dozens of others and driving thousands of revelers home after the city was forced to cancel festivities.

After six blasts erupted almost simultaneously about 6:30 p.m., security forces evacuated tens of thousands of people from several large shopping malls and halted public countdown celebrations at various intersections, including tourist-packed Khao San Road.

Hospital staff and officials said 36 persons were injured, at least eight of them foreigners, including one American. Some initially mistook the sound of the bombs for fireworks.

Thai revelers, foreign tourists, pedestrians and others sustained barrages of shattered glass, splintered wood and metal shards. The small, coordinated explosions wrecked shops, police booths, a Chinese shrine, a bus stop and other facilities.

Minutes after the new year began, three additional bombs exploded, including a blast in front of a prestigious shopping complex where a massive countdown celebration had just been canceled in a security crackdown.

Bangkok Mayor Apirak Kosayothin canceled major public celebrations and sent home about 5,000 gathered in Central World Plaza, the downtown venue for Bangkok’s main New Year’s countdown party. The three bomb blasts in the second wave early today ripped through a restaurant where Thais and foreigners were dining, injuring several people.

“One of the foreigners had one leg amputated by the blast,” said the Nation, a Thai newspaper.

But two of the later bombs would have caused untold mayhem had street New Year’s countdowns not been canceled. The bombs were planted at either end of the broad stretch of road in the capital’s upscale shopping district where the main street party was to have been held.

In Australia, crowds gathered for traditional New Year’s fireworks over Sydney Harbor. In Japan, throngs climbed Mount Fuji to greet the first sunrise of the new year.

While wind-swept revelers massed beneath Big Ben in London, celebrations were canceled in Belfast and in both of Scotland’s largest cities Glasgow and Edinburgh because of inclement weather. In Belgium, several fireworks displays were canceled after two party tents set up for celebrations in northern Belgium blew away.

In India, police arrested two suspected Islamic militants about half a mile from the site of New Delhi’s main public New Year’s Eve celebrations, a report said, citing police.

Pope Benedict XVI prayed at a New Year’s Eve service at the Vatican City in Rome that 2007 would bring the world “peace, comfort, justice.” But he cast a cold eye on some secular New Year’s celebrations, saying such social “rites” are “often carried out as an escape from reality.”

In Bangkok, early suspects included Islamists fighting for an independent homeland in the south of this tropical, Buddhist-majority country. About 1,800 Muslims, Buddhists and others have been killed in the insurgency along the border with Malaysia since January 2004.

But a top policeman ruled out the Muslim insurgents despite similarities in style of attacks.

“I don’t believe it has anything to do with the militants in the south,” Deputy National Police Chief General Achiravit Supanpasat said, though he was unable to speculate who else could have unleashed the hit-and-run attacks.

Several days ago, authorities said they feared Islamists were preparing to stage attacks in the south sometime this week, but no one publicly singled out Bangkok as a target.

Other authorities did not rule out a violent bid by supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, angry that Thailand’s U.S.-backed military toppled Bangkok’s elected government in a bloodless coup on Sept. 19.

The attacks will do little to reassure international investors, tourists and others who backed away from this Southeast Asian country after the military seized power, saying it wanted to end reputed corruption by Mr. Thaksin and his administration.

Mr. Thaksin was said to be visiting Beijing after self-exile stops in London, Hong Kong, Singapore and elsewhere.

Though the pattern of the multiple blasts could implicate southern Islamists, Thailand’s post-coup politics have become so riddled with suspicion, accusations and revenge that an investigation of who was responsible may take some time.

“It could also be seen as a challenge” to the military junta, said Chatuphon Promphan, Mr. Thaksin’s former political colleague, or it “could stem from the spread of the conflict in the three southernmost provinces.”

The military regime must “find out the facts before any misunderstanding is widely spread,” Mr. Chatuphon said.

Within hours of the blasts, Thai print and broadcast outlets quoted unidentified “sources” within the military junta who were pointing at Mr. Thaksin and his supporters, despite a lack of evidence.

“Police reinforcements have been sent to various areas in the city,” government spokesman Yongyuth Malyalarp said. “We urge the public to remain calm, continue with the celebration, but at the same time keep a look out for any irregularities.”

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