BANGKOK (Reuters) - The leader of a long-running anti-government street movement in Thailand called for a major rally on Sunday to oust the “murderous” administration after one of its supporters was killed in a grenade attack.
Sondhi Limthongkul accused the government of having a hand in the firing of the bomb in the early hours of Thursday into the prime minister’s official compound, occupied by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) since August.
“The PAD can no longer tolerate this murderous government that kills its people daily and cruelly,” he said, reading out a statement on PAD radio and television after an emergency meeting of his inner circle.
Chamlong Srimuang, a retired general and fellow PAD chief, painted the rally as “the last round of the final battle” — a cry used many times before, most recently in the run-up to bloody clashes with riot police outside parliament on Oct. 7.
Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat denied Sondhi’s accusation, telling reporters the government had “never had a policy to cause unrest or hurt any Thai”.
Besides the dead man, identified as a 48-year-old with shrapnel wounds to the chest, 23 people were hurt in the blast, the most serious in a series of small attacks against the PAD sit-in in the last few weeks.
The PAD, a loose coalition of royalist businessmen and academics who accuse the government of being a puppet of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra, have managed to muster crowds in the tens of thousands this year.
However, in the last few weeks the crowds at Government House have been dwindling, largely through fatigue and the absence of anything too inflammatory from the government, which is operating out of temporary offices at an old airport.
Policy-making has been almost totally paralysed, causing Finance Minister Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech to suggest the political crisis could tip the export-oriented economy into recession when it feels the full force of the global slowdown.
Thailand’s political temperature has been relatively cool in the past two weeks, with both anti- and pro-government camps focused on last weekend’s high-profile cremation of the king’s elder sister.
However, analysts always said the lull was only temporary, and so Thursday’s attack comes as no surprise.
For several hours, PAD sentries barred police from entering the barricaded government compound, making it extremely unlikely anybody would ever be caught.
“It is difficult to say who did this. Many people — both pro- and anti-government — carry weapons,” said political analyst Panitan Wattanayagorn of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
A renegade major-general known as Seh Daeng, who has offered basic military training to pro-government protesters and threatened to attack the PAD with bombs, rifles and snakes dropped from helicopters, also said he took no part.
Compounding the economic threat, state enterprise labour unions that caused havoc on the roads and railways in August in action supporting the PAD said they would meet on Friday to discuss possible strikes in response to the grenade.
Tensions are likely to remain high for some weeks, with Thaksin, now in exile having after skipping bail in a corruption case, set to address a mass rally of supporters around Dec. 13.
However, the army has said repeatedly another coup would not solve Thailand’s fundamental political problems, and analysts say it is highly unlikely to change that view unless major street violence breaks out.
Additional reporting and writing by Ed Cropley