Thailand – Bomb at government critic's office ratchets up political tension

A bomb exploded early Wednesday at the headquarters of a leading critic of embattled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, heightening tensions ahead of an anti-government rally aimed at ousting the Thai leader.

The army commander said that troops were prepared for any trouble that might arise from the protest scheduled for Sunday, while a former prime minister who was forced out of office 13 years ago advised Thaksin to call new elections if the situation deteriorates.

Thaksin has said he will not resign, but would dissolve parliament and call new elections if political pressures on him become too strong.

The small explosion, which caused minor damage and no casualties, went off at the compound of Chamlong Srimuang, a longtime adviser to Thaksin who this week joined the swelling movement calling for the prime minister to step down, said Samdin Lertbuth, chairman of Chamlong's Santi Asoke Buddhist sect.

Sect members are scheduled to gather at the compound Saturday, and will also join Sunday's rally in the heart of old Bangkok .

"There was a telephone call to our community radio office and the unidentified caller said, `I am opposed to your move to join the protest on Sunday,"' Samdin said.

Army Commander Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin said Wednesday his forces were prepared for any trouble but were required by law to remain neutral in political activities. Until the early 1990s, the military staged numerous coups and frequently meddled in politics.

On Monday, Chamlong called on Thaksin to resign, saying that he "no longer has the legitimacy to run the country."

Chamlong, a former army officer and politician, is a charismatic figure who helped spearhead protests in 1992 that ended up ousting a military-backed government.

Thaksin has come under heavy fire over his family's 73.3 billion baht (US$1.9 billion; Ђ 1.55 billion), tax-free sale last month of its controlling stake in telecom giant Shin Corp. to Singapore's state-owned investment company.

Critics had already been accusing him of corruption, abuse of power and manipulation of laws.

Four members of Thaksin's 374-member Thai Rak Thai party on Tuesday joined the call for the prime minister to step down.

Thaksin, meanwhile, received unexpected advice Wednesday from the last prime minister to be driven out of office by mass protests.

Retired Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon told reporters that "if worst comes to worst, dissolution of parliament is the best way out ... If the people still admire him (Thaksin), he will get elected again."

Suchinda, whose position as prime minister became untenable after soldiers shot protesters dead in Bangkok's streets, said that if demonstrators moved from their fixed venue and began marching, "it shows that they are ill-intentioned and it could cause a confrontation", reports the AP.


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