Police officers point to possible evidence at the scene of an explosion at a main protest site in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. More than a dozen people were hurt Sunday by a small explosion at an anti-government protest in Bangkok, less than a day after a bloodier attack in an eastern province killed one child and left about three dozen people wounded. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
BANGKOK — An apparent grenade explosion at an anti-government protest site in Thailand’s capital killed two people today, a day after an attack at a similar demonstration in an eastern province killed a child.
The attacks were the latest in a spate of protest-related violence roiling Thailand over the past three months, with at least 18 people killed and hundreds hurt. The protesters want Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to quit to make way for an appointed interim government to implement anti-corruption reforms, but she has refused.
The two people killed in today attack in central Bangkok’s upmarket Ratchaprasong shopping mall area were a 40-year-old woman and a 12-year-old boy, the Erawan emergency medical services center said. Another 22 people were injured.
On Saturday night, a 5-year-old girl was killed and about three dozen people wounded in an attack on an anti-government rally in the eastern province of Trat.
The perpetrators have not been identified in either attack. Both sides in the ongoing political dispute have blamed the other for instigating violence.
A protest leader, Sathit Wongnongtoey, said today's explosion was caused by a grenade. Six protesters were hurt Friday night by a grenade attack in the same area.
Explosives experts from the police and army cordoned off the immediate area of the blast to search for clues amid vendors’ overturned tables and bloodied sandals. Protesters, meanwhile, continued to rally on streets in the area that they have occupied for several weeks.
While the protesters have failed repeatedly to force Yingluck out through self-declared deadlines, they have blocked the prime minister from working at her normal offices and have sent roving mobs after her, making it difficult for her and Cabinet colleagues to make public appearances.
The protesters also have succeeded in delaying completion of an early election called by Yingluck, undermining efforts to restore political stability.
Saturday night’s attack in Trat occurred as about 500 anti-government protesters were rallying near busy food stalls. Trat is about 300 kilometers (180 miles) east of Bangkok.
A nurse at Trat Hospital, Nantiya Thientawatchai, said a 5-year-old girl died in the attack.
Police Lt. Thanabhum Newanit said unidentified assailants in a pickup truck shot into the crowd and two explosive devices went off. It was not clear whether the protest group’s guards fought back. He and other officials said that about three dozen people were hurt, several critically.
Both supporters and opponents of the protesters, as well as police, have been victims of the political violence, which before Saturday was mostly confined to Bangkok.
A spokesman for the protesters, Akanat Promphan, described the attack in Trat as “a massacre of innocents” that was “planned and organized terror.”
“The authorities must quickly find those terrorists responsible. Yingluck must show responsibility. Otherwise, we can only assume the government and ... Yingluck’s involvement in this atrocity,” he said.
The government’s National Security Council chief, Lt. Gen. Paradorn Pattanathuabutr, said that it was still not known who carried out the attack in Trat, but that there could have been several motives.
He said the protesters in Trat had been rallying for a long time, “so they might have caused disturbance to others,” adding that the “area is controlled by groups that are affiliated with the anti-government side.”
Thailand has seen sometimes violent political conflict since 2006, when then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin’s supporters and opponents have since taken to the streets for extended periods in a power struggle.
In 2010, pro-Thaksin “Red Shirts” occupied part of Bangkok for two months, and were assisted by their own armed militia. More than 90 people were killed in violent confrontations, with the army finally ordered to sweep away the demonstrators.
The Red Shirts have mostly kept a low profile during the current political unrest, but held a meeting today to discuss how to respond to the political crisis.