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Grenade kills 1, wounds 29 at Thai PM's office

A grenade attack on protesters occupying the Thai prime minister's office killed one person and wounded 29 on Thursday, raising fears of a return to political violence after a break for a royal funeral.
Thailand Political Unrest
An anti-government protester looks on during a protest at the government house in Bangkok, Thailand, on Thursday. Apichart Weerawong / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A grenade attack on protesters occupying the Thai prime minister's office killed one person and wounded 29 on Thursday, raising fears of a return to a cycle of political violence after a respite for a royal funeral.

Immediately after the attack, a leader of the People's Alliance for Democracy called for the protest group's followers to stage a mass gathering on Sunday at their Government House rally site followed by a march to Parliament.

The last time the group marched on Parliament in their efforts to force a change of government, street battles with police left two dead and hundreds wounded. The Oct. 7 clashes were the country's worst political violence in more than a decade.

Thursday's pre-dawn attack was the first fatal one at the compound since it was seized by the alliance activists three months ago.

Hours after royal funeral
It came just hours after the end of a six-day mourning period for the elder sister of Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Political protests were suspended during the period, but the temporary peace and unity around near-universal respect for the monarchy failed to hold.

The protesters have vowed not to leave the grounds of Government House until the allies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they accuse of corruption, are removed from power.

Thaksin's critics fear he wishes to stage a comeback, despite being ousted by a September 2006 military coup.

Though he is in self-imposed exile to avoid jail on a conflict of interest conviction, he has recently been rallying his supporters from afar. His associates in Thailand have said he will give a speech by phone on Dec. 13 in which he may announce plans to become more active in politics again.

Bangkok police chief Gen. Jongrak Jutanond said he did not know who was behind the blast.

Several other explosions had been reported at the compound in recent weeks, but the protest group had refused to allow police entrance to investigate.

The protest alliance has profited politically from violence in the past, leading critics to suggest they seek out confrontations.

But some Thaksin supporters, who oppose the protesters, have also publicly expressed their intention to launch attacks.

Top protest leader Sondhi Limthongkul, however, blamed a third party for Thursday's blast — the authorities.

"The police chief, the metropolitan police chief and many other policemen collaborated and conspired with the government to kill civilians who are using their constitutional rights to protect the throne, the interest of the country and the people," he said. "The alliance will not tolerate the murderous government any longer."

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat denied government involvement in the blast.

Blast came as band performed
Thursday's explosion occurred shortly after 3 a.m. while a band performed on a lawn outside the prime minister's office, said Amorn Amornratamanon, another protest leader. The grenade landed on a giant nearby tent that was sheltering dozens of people, he said.

Surachet Sathitniramai, the director of the Narenthorn Medical Center, said a 48-year-old man died from a shrapnel wound to the throat. Another 29 people were injured, four of whom were hospitalized, he said.

On Thursday afternoon, hundreds of protesters walked alongside a van carrying the victim's body from the hospital to a Buddhist temple for cremation. Protest leaders called on police to "take responsibility for the violence."

The protesters say Somchai is a proxy for Thaksin, who remains the country's most influential politician. Somchai, a former judge and bureaucrat, is Thaksin's brother-in-law.

Violence hits key sector of economy hard
The crisis and sporadic violence has caused a slump in tourism, a key source of revenue for Thailand, which has been in political limbo since early 2006 when the alliance began protests against Thaksin for alleged corruption and abuse of power.

A military coup ousted him while he was abroad in September of that year. But the 59-year-old tycoon-turned-politician is adored by the country's rural majority, who gave Thaksin's party two sweeping election victories. A December 2007 election put his political allies back in power.

A Thai court handed down Thaksin's conviction last month and sentenced him in absentia to two years in prison. Thaksin, who had settled in London, traveled to Dubai recently after Britain revoked his visa.