Friday's blast sent tension rippling through Bangkok after several
days of relative calm that had suggested the movement to close down
the government and force the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck
Shinawatra was running out of steam.
It was unclear who was behind the attack on the protesters. Their
firebrand leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, blamed the government and said
the incident would not dent the morale of thousands who on Monday
stepped up a two-month agitation, blockading key arteries of the
city and occupying ministries.
The incident, which came two weeks before a general election, may
have heightened the risk of a move by the Thai army to end an
impasse that is starting to damage the economy.
Boonyakiat Karavekphan, a political scientist at Ramkamhaeng
University in Bangkok, said the attack had raised chances of "a
significant clash between the protesters and groups they perceive to
be their enemies, the police or forces loyal to the government, in
order to provoke some sort of military reaction and speed up chances
of a military intervention".
The army has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years of on-off
democracy, but it has tried to remain neutral this time, and many
believe it will stay in its barracks.
"Isolated incidents of violence could provoke retaliatory actions
... but these are less likely to prompt military intervention than
street clashes that lead to a large number of fatalities," the
Eurasia political risk group said.
At an Army Day parade in the capital, military chief Prayuth
Chan-ocha said in a speech that it was the army's duty to protect
the country's sovereignty, religions and the king, but he made no
mention of the street protests.
The turmoil is the latest episode in an eight-year conflict pitting
Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against poorer,
mainly rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, the self-exiled
former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
The protesters accuse the pair of corruption, and want Yingluck to
step down to make way for an unelected "people's council" to push
through broad political reforms.
Strong support from rural voters has enabled Thaksin or his allies
to win every election since 2001 and Yingluck's Puea Thai Party
seems certain to win the vote set for February 2. But the protesters
and opposition parties are boycotting the poll and want the prime
minister to step down immediately.
"THE MOVEMENT IS DESPERATE"
The grenade hurled at demonstrators marching in the city centre on
Friday injured 36. The Erawan Medical Center, which monitors Bangkok
hospitals, said one of the injured, a 46-year-old man, died of
bleeding during the night.
Suthep led a march near the site of Friday's explosion and one group
of protesters entered a police compound in the city on Saturday,
meeting no resistance. A ceremony of remembrance for the man who
died was due to be held in the evening.
The government rejected Suthep's charge that it was responsible for
the attack and derided the protest movement.
[to top of second column]
"Its attempt to shut down this city has not been successful so it is
trying different tactics, including staging attacks and blaming them
on the government," Anusorn Iamsa-ard, deputy spokesman for
Yingluck's Puea Thai Party, said on Friday.
The agitation that began in November has been relatively peaceful
until now, though sporadic flare-ups between protesters, police and
government supporters have left eight people dead and scores
The demonstrations are the biggest since pro-Thaksin protesters
paralyzed Bangkok in April and May 2010. That movement ended with a
military crackdown and more than 90 people, mostly protesters, were
Pro-government "red shirt" protesters have stayed outside Bangkok
this time, limiting the risk of factional clashes.
In northern and north-eastern cities — usually bastions of support
for Thaksin — hundreds of farmers have staged protests and blocked
roads to demand payment for rice sold to the government under a
controversial subsidy scheme.
"We will march to join the major protest in Bangkok if we don't get
our money. We will fight to the death," said one farmer who joined a
protest in Phicit province on Saturday.
An anti-corruption agency said this week it would investigate the
money-guzzling subsidy program introduced by Yingluck's party, which
promised poor farmers they would be able to sell their rice at
Critics say the scheme is riddled with corruption and — a particular
gripe of the more well-heeled protesters — that it has cost
taxpayers as much as 425 billion baht ($12.9 billion), although that
figure would drop if the government managed to find buyers for the
rice in state stockpiles.
Yingluck is nominally head of the National Rice Committee and could
therefore eventually face charges.
"The greater risk to Yingluck's government remains judiciary
intervention," Eurasia Group said, adding that the inquiry into the
rice purchasing scheme had created a "pathway through which the
courts could take action to remove her administration".
(Writing by John Chalmers; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.