Bangkok Bomb Blast Kills 19, Injures Scores

By BenarNews staff

2015-08-17
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Victims and passers-by react following a bomb blast at Rajaprasong Intersection in Bangkok, August 17, 2015.

Updated at 7:20 p.m. ET on 2015-08-17

A bomb blast during evening rush hour Monday at a Hindu shrine in central Bangkok killed 19 people and injured more than 100 others, police and medical personnel said.

The device – a pipe bomb packing three kilograms of TNT, according to police – was planted inside the shrine, which is popular with both tourists and local people and located at the heart of the tourism district of Bangkok, surrounded by shopping malls and upscale hotels.

There was no immediately claim of responsibility for the blast. Thai officials said it was too soon to say whether the attack was politically motivated, or an act of terrorism.

"The perpetrator knew there are a lot of foreign tourists around there, and expected a lot of death," national police chief Pol. Gen. Somyos Poompanmuang told a press conference late Monday.

“They purposely planned to take lives.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said the attack was aimed squarely at Thailand’s economy, including tourism, one of its few bright sectors.

"It was clear that the perpetrators intended to destroy the economy and tourism, because it occurred in the heart of the business district," the Bangkok Post quoted him as saying.

A very loud bang

Five foreigners were among the dead, according to the Thai News Network (TNN).

Two of them were Malaysians, according to the Malaysian government news agency Bernama. The others dead were believed to be two from China and one from the Philippines.

Many of the wounded were from China and Taiwan, reports said.

At least 117 people were injured by the explosion and rushed to 15 different hospitals around Bangkok, according to the Erawan Emergency Center, which coordinates emergency response in the Thai capital.

"I heard a very loud bang, it made the whole building shake so I ran outside to see what had happened," Panupan Chansing, 20, a hotel worker at the nearby Grand Hyatt Erawan, told AFP.

"I saw bodies lying on the ground and I saw vehicles on fire. I feel very sad and sorry that this has happened to Thai people... I'm scared."

U.N Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked” to learn of the explosion and loss of life. “He hopes that those responsible will be brought to justice,” said a statement attributed to his spokesman.

Ned Price, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, said that country would be in close contact with Thai authorities investigating the attack.

“The United States condemns this deplorable act of violence, and our thoughts are with the victims, their families and loved ones, and the Thai emergency personnel responding to the incident,” he said in a statement.

Bitterly divided

The bomb exploded inside the Erawan Shrine at Rajaprasong Intersection at 6:55 p.m, according to close circuit television footage. The small stand-alone shrine set among shopping malls is popular among Thais and East Asian tourists and worshippers.

It is located at a major intersection that has been the site of demonstrations by Thailand’s bitterly divided political factions, as well as people protesting Thailand’s military junta.

A long-running political conflict in Thailand pits a middle class and royalist elite based in Bangkok against rural and working-class voters, many of whom are part of the Red Shirt movement loyal to exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

In May 2014, the military ousted the civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, after months of demonstrations and political unrest. The military junta lead by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-Cha has banned political protests.

Small bomb blasts have occurred in Bangkok periodically in recent years during periods of political tension, with each side accusing the other of orchestrating the violence.

Recent tensions stemmed from statements by the military junta that it may not hold elections until 2017 and that it would push for a constitution that will enable emergency rule for any elected government.

Thaksin called on his supporters on YouTube last week to reject the draft constitution, expected to be voted on next month by a special National Reform Council. If it passes, it is supposed to go to a public referendum around January.

Another source of recent tension, according to the Associated Press, is the annual military promotion list, with the junta's top two leaders — Prime Minister Prayuth and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit — widely believed to be supporting different candidates.

The reshuffle, which comes into effect in September, has traditionally been a source of unrest, as different cliques in the army, usually defined by their graduating class in the military academy, seek the most important posts to consolidate their power, AP reported.

A Muslim insurgency seeking autonomy or independence for Thailand’s southernmost provinces has claimed close to 6,000 lives over the past ten years but violence in that conflict is almost exclusively confined to the Deep South: Yala, Narathiwat, Pattani and parts of Songkhla province.

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