Anti-government protestor in Thailand dies in grenade attack

Other News Materials 23 November 2008 02:00 (UTC +04:00)

One anti-government protester was killed and at least 29 were injured Thursday in a pre-dawn grenade attack against anti-government activists occupying the Government House compound in Bangkok, according to news reports from Thailand, dpa reported.

Protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy, who have been demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, stormed the government compound on Aug. 26 and have occupied the grounds and offices ever since.

Explosives have been thrown into their encampment at least three times before, but Thursday's incident was by far the most serious.

There were no immediate indications as to who might have staged the attack. Guards from the People's Alliance for Democracy quickly cordoned off the area, and even the police were kept out.

Alliance leaders called for a mass rally and march in Bangkok on Sunday.

A grenade was fired from a launcher about 3:30 A.M., Anchalee Paireelak, a spokesperson for the demonstrators, told the Thai newspaper The Nation. The grenade exploded near a stage where a band was playing, and the blast killed a 48-year-old man who suffered shrapnel wounds to the throat.

The police have not moved against the demonstrators since Oct. 7, when they fired powerful tear gas canisters at activists outside the parliament building in Bangkok. Protesters fought back with iron rods, slingshots, golf clubs and bottles, and the confrontation left two persons dead and more than 400 injured.

The standoff pits the mostly rural poor, who support Somchai and the government, against an established urban elite and middle class who feel threatened by the poor's rising political power. The political crisis has also led to deep divisions in Thai society, causing bitter rifts among families, friends and work colleagues.

In addition to Somchai's resignation, the alliance wants to remake the country's electoral process, replacing direct elections with a system that apportions large percentages of parliamentary seats by profession and social organizations.

The protesters see Somchai as a political proxy for the former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and has been living in exile. They leveled the same charge at Somchai's predecessor, Samak Sundaravej, who was forced to step down after a court found him guilty of taking payments while in office to appear on a cooking show.

Thaksin, a billionaire former telecommunications tycoon, faces a number of corruption charges, and was recently sentenced, in absentia, to two years in prison for conflicts of interest and abuse of power.

He had been living in self-exile in Britain, but his British visa was revoked this month. He recently has been in Hong Kong and Dubai.

It has not helped Somchai's standing or credibility with his opponents that he is the brother of Thaksin's recently divorced wife. With his offices occupied by the protesters, Somchai and his cabinet have been working out of the VIP lounge at Bangkok's mothballed former airport.

Rumors continue to swirl in Bangkok that Thaksin is hoping -- or even planning -- to make a return to Thai politics. His supporters said they have organized a video call-in appearance for him on Dec. 13 at Supachalasai Stadium in Bangkok. Jatuporn Promphan, a legislator from the governing People Power Party, was quoted in The Nation on Wednesday as saying that ""Thaksin will no longer wait to be attacked, he will fight back by all means.""

Jatuporn added that the former prime minister was preparing to announce ""that he will return to politics to defend his name."