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NEWS UPDATES 15 March 2010

Thailand: Grenade attack raises tension as red-shirt protests

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Grenade explosions that wounded two soldiers at a Thai military base raised tensions in Bangkok mid-Monday as tens of thousands of anti-government protesters massed at another barracks on the outskirts of the city, reported Reuters.

It was unclear who was behind the attack or whether it was directly linked to the protests by red-shirted supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

But it came shortly after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva rebuffed demands by protesters to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections by midday.

Despite the increase in political tension, foreign funds have been flowing into Thailand's stock market -- to the tune of $812 million over the past three weeks -- as investors seek to benefit from a swift rebound in Southeast Asia's emerging economies.

As a sign of this, Thai stocks were firmer on Monday after jumping 63 percent last year despite frequent protests, including Thailand's worst street violence in 17 years in April.

Recent foreign buying was based on three factors: Thai assets are already trading at a substantial risk discount, the economy has rebounded well from the global downturn despite bouts of unrest; and, Abhisit is widely expected to survive the protests.

A protest leader, Veera Musikapong, told a sea of so-called Red Shirts around the regimental compound that new methods would be used to pressure the government, but he gave no details.

Some 100,000 Red Shirt protesters have been camped out along a boulevard in the old part of Bangkok. A force of more than 50,000 soldiers, police and other security personnel has been mobilised in the capital area.

The protest had been billed as a "million man march," but protest leader Natthawut Saikua said he believed more than a half million people turned up, while estimates from the police and other government agencies ranged from 50,000 to 150,000.


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