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Thai army chief rules out intervention

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra leaves Bangkok for unknown destination, as political unrest claims another life.

Last updated: 24 Feb 2014 08:29
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The political unrest sweeping Thailand looks set to continue, with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra leaving Bangkok and the army chief ruling out military intervention to stop the violence.

Shinawatra's office said on Monday that the prime minister was about 150km from the capital. She has not been seen in public in Bangkok since last Tuesday, Reuters news agency reported.

The embattled leader is due to hold a cabinet meeting this Tuesday, which the Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said was "highly likely" to take place outside the capital. Yingluck is also expected at a corruption hearing on Thursday.

"As for the prime minister's exact whereabouts today, I have not been informed," Surapong told reporters on Monday.

Her departure came as the army chief said the military would not intervene to quell the unrest. The army ousted Yingluck's brother Thaksin in 2006, one of 18 coups or attempted coups since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

In a televised address, army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said: "Somebody has to take responsibility but that doesn't mean soldiers can intervene without working under the framework (of the law). How can we be sure that if we use soldiers, the situation will return to peace?"

Sunday violence 

Meanwhile the death toll from a blast on Sunday rose to three, after a six-year old girl died from injuries sustained during a grenade attack in a busy Bangkok shopping district, hours after Yingluck's supporters promised to get tough with demonstrators paralysing parts of the city.

The explosion went off near one of the few large protest sites remaining, leaving a trail of blood and sandals on the streets near the Central World shopping mall.

Two siblings and a 40-year-old woman were killed in the attack, while three other suffered serious head injuries, Erawan Medical Center, which monitors Bangkok hospitals, said. In an earlier attack on Saturday, unidentified gunmen shot at an anti-government protest and threw explosive devices in the Khao Saming district of the eastern province of Trat, killing a five-year-old girl and wounding 41 people.

Al Jazeera's Veronica Pedrosa, reporting from Bangkok, said officials think the blast was caused by a grenade shot from a M79 grenade launcher.

Pedrosa said that the attack happened at a time when pro-government supporters were preparing to mobilise millions from countryside to Bangkok in support of the prime minister.

"They might easily bump into anti-government protesters in the city," she said. 

Blame game

The political crisis in the country pits mostly middle-class anti-government protesters from Bangkok and the south against supporters of the prime minister from the rural north and northeast of the country. Both sides have blamed the other for instigating violence. 

The violence in Bangkok alone has so far claimed more than a dozen lives, including protesters and policemen. Hundreds have been injured in gunfire and grenade blasts linked to the demonstrations. 

The protests are the latest chapter in a political conflict that has gripped Thailand for eight years.

Anti-government protesters have blocked Bangkok intersections for weeks with tents, tyres and sandbags, seeking to unseat Yingluck and halt the influence of Thaksin, regarded by many as the real power behind the government.

The protests are the biggest since deadly political unrest in 2010, when Thaksin's "red shirt" supporters paralysed Bangkok in an attempt to remove a government led by the Democrat Party, now the opposition.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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