BANGKOK, THAILAND // A grenade attack on protesters occupying the Thai prime minister's office killed one person and wounded 29 today. This is the first fatal assault at the compound since it was seized by anti-government activists in a political crisis that has divided the nation. The protesters, calling themselves the People's Alliance for Democracy, have vowed not to leave the grounds of Government House until the allies of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra are removed from power. The occupation began in August.
Bangkok's police chief, Gen Jongrak Jutanond, said he did not know who was behind the blast. The explosion occurred shortly after 3am today while a band performed on a stage on the front lawn outside the prime minister's office, said Amorn Amornratamanon, one of the protest leaders. The grenade landed on a giant tent near the stage that was sheltering dozens of people, he said. "I was listening to the music when I heard a big bang. I ran to the stage and turned back to see several people lying on the ground," said Wimonwan Pranratsmee, a 42-year-old woman who was among the wounded.
Army Gen Prathomphong Kesornsuk, who was at the scene, said the device was an M-79 stun grenade that was fired from a nearby building. Surachet Sathitniramai, the director of the Narenthorn Medical Center said a 48-year-old man died from a shrapnel wound to his throat, and that of the 29 people injured, four of whom were hospitalised. Gen Jongrak Jutanond called for calm, saying: "The police will do everything we can to prevent violence. Thailand is not Iraq. I urge everyone not to resort to violence and to use peaceful means to solve problems."
The protesters say the government is a proxy for Mr Thaksin, who was deposed in a 2006 coup and is living in exile, but remains the country's most influential politician. Mr Thaksin's brother-in-law, Somchai Wongsawat, is the current prime minister and the main target of the ongoing demonstrations. The occupation of Government House has paralysed the government and split society down the middle, creating Thailand's worst political crisis in years. Unable to access his office, Mr Somchai has set up a makeshift government facility at Bangkok's old international airport, where he holds his weekly cabinet meetings.
The crisis and sporadic violence has caused a slump in tourism, a key source of revenue for Thailand. On Oct 7, a clash between protesters and riot police outside parliament left two protesters dead and more than 470 injured. It was the country's worst political violence in 16 years. The protesters are a mix of activists, wealthy and middle-class urban residents and royalists. The People's Alliance for paved the way for the 2006 coup that ousted Mr Thaksin. A Thai court handed down Mr Thaksin's first conviction last month and sentenced him to two years in prison for violating a conflict of interest law while in office. Mr Thaksin travelled to Dubai recently after Britain revoked his visa. The 59-year-old tycoon-turned-politician is adored in rural areas, where he built up a political base during his six years in power, but disliked by many of the educated elite in the cities, where his administration was seen as deeply corrupt.
The political unrest briefly paused for the six-day funeral of Princess Galyani Vadhana, the elder sister of Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The blast came just hours after the official mourning period ended at midnight on Wednesday. * AP