Bombs rock southern Thai city

Blasts come ahead of key court decision on the future of two political parties.

    The blasts targeted hotels, pharmacies, a department store and a restaurant [Reuters]
    Scores of Malaysians, Singaporeans and Indonesians spend their weekends in Hat Yai, although police said all the injured were Thai nationals, two of whom were in serious condition.
    "So far we cannot rule out that the attack was linked to insurgents in the three southern provinces, but it is mostly likely linked to a political motive"

    Paithoon Choochaiya, police chief of Songkhla

    Thailand's Muslim-dominated southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat have been wracked by violence since an uprising flared up in early 2004 over complaints of rights abuses by soldiers and discrimination by the country's Buddhist majority.
    Some attacks have also occurred in the nearby province of Songkhla, which includes Hat Yai.
    In September last year, six bombs exploded in Hat Yai, killing four people, including the first Westerner to die in the violence.
    But the police chief of Songkhla province, Major-General Paithoon Choochaiya, said the placing of the bombs may not have been the work of Muslim fighters, but may have been related to national politics.
    "So far we cannot rule out that the attack was linked to insurgents in the three southern provinces, but it is mostly likely linked to a political motive," he said without elaborating.
    "The way they planted the bombs shows the attackers did not mean to kill people but merely wanted to create confusion. The bombs were mostly planted far from where people were gathered in crowds."
    Tribunal verdict
    Al Jazeera's correspondent in Bangkok, Selina Downes, says the idea that the bombs might not be connected to the ongoing troubles in the south has left many Thais unconvinced.
    She says critics of the military-installed government argue that the blasts are being used as a convenient tool to attack its opponents, rather than admiting that its policies in the south and promises to be bring peace are not working.
    Political tensions have been brewing since Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted as prime minister in a coup last September, with cases of arson and bombings blamed on his supporters.

    The six blasts in Hat Yai left at
    least 13 Thais injured [AFP]

    The nine-member Constitutional Tribunal is due on Wednesday to decide whether Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai political party, as well as the opposition Democrat party - the country's two leading parties - should be banned for alleged electoral violations during balloting last year.
    A ban would disqualify the parties' leaders from politics for up to five years.
    Many fear the verdict may escalate the nation's political uncertainty, as highlighted by King Bhumibol Adulyadej last week when he summoned top judges to warn them whatever decision the court made would upset someone.
    The words of the monarch, who is widely-revered in the country, prompted Thai Rak Thai and the Democrat party to promise restraint.
    Surayud Chulanont, the military-installed prime minister installed by the military after the coup, shortened a trip to China to be ready to handle the outcome of the verdicts, armed with an emergency decree empowering him to deploy troops on the streets and impose curfews.
    "There will be people who are unhappy with the verdicts and will protest on the street, but I don't think there will be hundreds of thousands," he said.
    Analysts say banning all 170 members of the executive committees of Thai Rak Thai and the Democrats would create a vacuum in Thai politics, removing scores of the country's leading politicians.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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