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NEWS UPDATES 23 April 2010

Blasts kill one, injured scores in Bangkok; red-shirt denies responsibility

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Thailand was on edge Friday after a series of grenade attacks in the heart of Bangkok which left three people dead and scores wounded in the latest bloodshed of the escalating political crisis, reported AFP.

Hundreds of riot police were facing down thousands of anti-government Red Shirt protesters at a key intersection in Bangkok's business hub where the blasts hit late Thursday, triggering alarm in the international community.

Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the grenades were fired from within the sprawling Red Shirt encampment but leaders of the protest movement denied they were responsible.

On Friday, police armed with batons and riot shields shouted through loud hailers across the protesters' barricade to thousands of defiant Red Shirts who have fortified their encampment with sharpened bamboo stakes and piles of tyres.

Red Shirt leader Nattawut Saikuar told demonstrators to prepare for a crackdown by security forces, which have warned that time was running out after more than a month of rallies which have paralysed the capital's business hub.

"The authorities are trying to push in," Nattawut told the crowd from a rally stage, where live pop music had been entertaining a dancing crowd since dawn despite Thursday's bloodshed.

The grenade blasts comes after a failed attempt by authorities on April 10 to disperse the Red Shirts sparked clashes that left 25 people dead and more than 800 injured in the worst political violence in almost two decades.

"Three people died and more than 70 were injured," said Suthep, adding that an M79 grenade launcher was used in the attacks in a luxury shopping district. (Local media reported there was only one casualty as of 4pm local time on Friday.)

The mostly working class Reds -- who are campaigning for immediate elections and the ouster of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva -- denied that they were responsible for the blasts.

"Whoever carried out the M79 attacks wants people to think it was done by the Reds. We will never attack innocent people," said a Red Shirt leader, Jatuporn Prompan.

Bangkok emergency medical services said Friday that 85 people had been wounded, including an Australian and an Indonesian man, and that one woman had been killed.

The United Nations appealed for restraint and several nations issued travel warnings for Thailand, which has been in turmoil since former premier Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a 2006 coup.

"We appeal to both the protesters and the Thai authorities to avoid further violence and loss of life and to work to resolve the situation peacefully through dialogue," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

Nesirky said UN chief Ban Ki-moon was "very concerned about the continuing standoff and tension in Thailand and the potential for this to escalate."

The United States also urged restraint while several European countries issued travel warnings and urged their citizens to avoid political protests.

The army this week signalled it was preparing to crack down on the Red Shirts, who have shut down the capital's commercial heart as they campaign to overthrow a government they say is undemocratic and elitist.

"We don't want you to risk your lives. If there is a clash you could be hurt by stray bullets," said army spokesman Sansern Kaewkumnerd. "Your time is running out. Please leave the area."

Despite repeated tense stand-offs with security forces, the rally has been largely cheerful with live bands performing to crowds waving signature heart-shaped clappers and selling red merchandise in support of the movement.

But the Reds, who have been demonstrating in Bangkok for weeks in their bid to topple Abhisit's government, have remained defiant and ruled out talks until the military withdraws.

The Red protesters, mainly from the rural poor, are largely supporters Thaksin, who is now living in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.

They say Abhisit's government is illegitimate because it came to power in a parliamentary vote at the end of 2008 after a court ruling removed Thaksin's allies from office.


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