Bombs kill 2 in Bangkok

The Baltimore Sun

BANGKOK, Thailand --At least six small bombs exploded around Bangkok yesterday, killing two people and wounding more than 20 in a city that remains under martial law after a coup three months ago.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks.

Two more bombs went off moments later near a downtown mall, wounding eight people, including six foreigners, police said.

New Year's celebrations were officially canceled in Bangkok and the northern city of Chiang Mai. But when midnight struck, cheers went up in Bangkok and the sky was filled with fireworks.

The national police chief said he doubted that Muslim insurgents from southern Thailand were involved in the bombings, leaving the likelihood that the violence was tied to the country's continuing political tensions.

Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted as prime minister in a nonviolent coup Sept. 19, and the military junta has said there is a continuing threat of instability from his backers. The civilian government appointed by the junta approved funds last week for a 14,000-member special operations force to maintain order.

"The bombs exploded almost simultaneously," said Gen. Surayud Chulanont, the interim prime minister, as he visited the wounded at a hospital yesterday. He said it was too early to conclude who was responsible.

Police were sent to guard the scenes of the bombings and to secure other possible targets. Hotels tightened security, shopping malls closed early and police cleared Khao San Road, a street that is closed to traffic where people from around the world gather to celebrate the new year.

The national police chief, Gen. Ajirawit Suphanaphesat, said at least six bombs exploded and that police were inspecting suspicious packages in several areas.

Officials said two people were killed and up to 26 wounded by blasts in scattered locations that included a bus stop, a parking area near a shopping mall, a small open market and two police posts.

Bangkok's mayor, Apirak Kosayothin, closed a New Year's celebration in a public square more than three hours early and said other public countdowns would be canceled.

"Due to several bomb explosions in Bangkok and for the sake of peace and security, I would ask all of you to return to your homes now," he told a crowd of 5,000. Police then began clearing the square.

Crowds remained in the streets for some time, however.

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

An insurgency in the three largely Muslim provinces of southern Thailand has claimed more than 1,900 lives over the past two years. Shootings and bombings have become an almost daily occurrence. But the violence from that insurgency appears not to have spread to Bangkok and other parts of the country.

The southern violence appears to have a number of causes. Ethnic Malay Muslims have complained over the years of neglect and discrimination by officials in the distant capital in this largely Buddhist nation.

Thailand's political crisis did not end with the coup, which brought to a halt a period of mounting tension that included large demonstrations against the prime minister earlier in the year.

Thaksin was abroad at the time, and the question of his return continues to preoccupy people here. The junta has said its interim government will draw up a new constitution in preparation for an election late next year.

But it has delayed lifting martial law, saying that unnamed "undercurrents" of pro-Thaksin opposition continue to present a threat.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the minority Democrat Party, said Saturday that he expects Thaksin's backers to step up political attacks on the military-backed government in the coming year.

He referred to recent accusations of corruption against Surayud, the interim prime minister, and said: "Such fighting will be more fierce" in the future.

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