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Conspiracy theories abound over Bangkok grenade attacks

Publication Date : 23-01-2014


A police escort accompanied the body of taxi driver Prakong Chujan back to his home town of Phuket on Tuesday.

Prakong, who was in his 40s, died from shrapnel wounds after a grenade was hurled at anti-government protesters marching through Bangkok last Friday.

Phuketwan, a local daily, called him "a martyr who gave his life for the protest cause" and expected his cremation ceremony to be "one of the largest Phuket has seen in recent years".

Allegations and counter-allegations have been flying back and forth since the weekend's grenade attacks. The blasts mark a deadly escalation in political violence that had, until last Friday, involved only drive-by shootings or small explosives hurled at fringe areas in the dead of night or early morning.

While the motive is unclear, these attacks have given newfound legitimacy to protesters, who had failed to force the resignation of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra despite blockading key intersections of Bangkok for the past week.

The grenade thrower who killed Prakong has yet to be identified, but the man behind another grenade attack on protesters on Sunday had his video footage circulated by the police, who also offered a 500,000 baht (US$151,880) reward for information leading to his arrest.

Self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra - whose clan and political network are the target of the three-month long street protests - offered another 10 million baht ($303,770) for his capture.

Protesters have cast this as an attempt to cow them into silence.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told supporters on Sunday: "Yingluck has been sending her guard dogs to attack us."

The dominant Puea Thai party, which is expected to be re-elected in the February 2 polls, claims this is part of a conspiracy to create the unrest needed to trigger a military coup.

Protesters want to suspend polls until a "people's council" enacts reforms, and a coup could pave the way for this to happen.

Protesters' critics point to the suspicious circumstances of the first attack last Friday, which took place on a quiet stretch of road that was not part of the original protest march route made known to police beforehand.

The last-minute switch left police unprepared to protect the protesters, said the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order, a government security panel.
Analysts say it does not make sense for the government to provoke violence at this stage.

Dr David Streckfuss, an academic based in Khon Kaen province, noted that the government was "so assiduously trying to avoid confrontation".

Over the past three months, police have stayed their hand in dealing with the protesters.

Although the government has declared a state of emergency in Bangkok, it has pledged not to crack down on protesters.

In the uniquely Thai psychology, the party that draws first blood loses moral authority.

But this crisis is more than a two-sided affair. Armed militant groups on either side of the political divide - some of them not tied to the command structures of mainstream groups - are unpredictable elements.

Power brokers are jostling for an edge before a looming royal succession. And some local business owners are getting fed up at the loss of income from prolonged street occupations and may be tempted to retaliate.

There are more questions than answers in this affair, but what is clear is that the attacks "will open the door to extreme members of each side", said Dr Streckfuss.



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