- The Washington Times - Friday, April 23, 2010

BANGKOK (AP) | At least five grenades exploded Thursday in the center of Bangkok near the scene of political protests in Thailand, killing one person and wounding at least 75, sending panicked people running through the streets and fleeing an elevated train station.

The area of the explosions has been the site of a tense standoff over the past several days between Red Shirt protesters, who are demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva resign, and armed troops.

More recently, a rival group of protesters has rallied in the area, occasionally hurling stones and insults at the Red Shirts and creating a volatile mix. Several of the blasts were near where the rivals have gathered, under the elevated tracks of a Skytrain station.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said in a speech broadcast Thursday night on all Thai channels that five M79 grenades were fired from launchers within the Red Shirts’ encampment.

Three fell through the roof of the station, which runs above Silom Road, the center of Bangkok’s business district and home to several strips of go-go bars. A fourth exploded on the pavement near the five-star Dusit Thani Hotel and the fifth near a bank, he said.

TV stations reported several more blasts. Previous explosions at the site have been from fireworks.

The government’s Erawan emergency center said the blasts killed one person, identified as a Thai woman, and wounded at least 75.

The TPBS television network reported that three foreigners were among the wounded. Associated Press reporters saw at least four people injured, two with serious wounds who were not moving.

The streets were full of people tending to the injured and carrying away bloodied victims.

Mr. Suthep, who heads the government’s Center for the Resolution of Emergency Situation, expressed sorrow over the casualties. “The government has tried to set up measures to protect the people by sending security forces in to protect people,” he said.

He asked the people who had been protesting the Red Shirts to leave the area for their own safety.

A Red Shirt protest leader denied that the group had any involvement in the blasts.

“The explosions had nothing to do with us,” said Weng Tojirakarn, who suggested that the blame could lie with a variety of other groups, including the rival protesters, the government, the army or the police.

The Red Shirts, who say Mr. Abhisit came to power illegitimately and are pushing for him to call elections immediately, have rallied in the streets for several weeks. On Thursday, the army warned that time was running out for the protesters to clear the streets, saying soldiers would crack down soon.

The head of the United Nations urged all sides to show restraint.

“The secretary-general is very concerned about the continuing standoff and tensions in Thailand, and the potential for this to escalate,” said Martin Nesirky, Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman. “He appeals to both the protesters and the Thai authorities to avoid further violence and loss of life and to work to resolve the situation peacefully, through dialogue. This is a moment requiring restraint on all sides.”

Prospects for a peaceful solution to the political crisis appear slim, and every night brings a new flurry of rumors of an imminent crackdown.

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