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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Thai capital on alert after bombings

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP)- Soldiers and police patrolled key areas of Bangkok as tourists returned to the capital's streets Tuesday after a New Year's Eve marred by bomb blasts the government blamed on supporters of the overthrown prime minister.

While most residential areas were unaffected, soldiers guarded bus and train stations as well as Bangkok's international airport, where large crowds were expected on the last day of New Year holidays, military spokesman Col. Sansern Chaengkamnerd said.

The eight small bombs that exploded across Bangkok prompted city authorities to cancel large-scale celebrations Sunday night and raised concerns about Thailand's stability, shaky economy and thriving tourism industry. Police earlier said nine bombs had gone off but later reported that one was defused before exploding.

The bombings, which killed at least three people and wounded 38, capped a year of unrest in Thailand, including an increasingly violent Muslim insurgency in the south and a Sept. 19 coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The military-backed government has virtually ruled out southern insurgents in the Bangkok blasts, and is focusing on supporters of Thaksin as suspects, though it has named no one specifically and provided no evidence.

Nobody has claimed responsibility for the blasts, and Thaksin has denied any involvement. He suggested in statement that he suspected the militants from the south.

"I strongly condemn this act (of bombing) and I swear that I never ever think of hurting the people and destroying the country's credibility for my own political gain," Thaksin said in a copy of a handwritten letter given to reporters.

"Even during the time of political conflicts, when people who lost influence and those who were deceived by false information tried to topple my government, I did not resort to the use of force," he wrote.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, who called the perpetrators "sick in the head," dismissed the possibility that they were Muslim insurgents who have carried out bombings in the country's far south, where nearly 2,000 people have been killed since 2004.

"From the evidence we have gathered, there is a slim chance that it is related to the southern insurgency," Surayud said, adding that the insurgents would more likely have attacked "in their area of influence."

Several senior members of Thaksin's fallen government were ordered Monday to report to the Council for National Security, the military panel propping up the post-coup interim government.

In September, a group of generals ousted Thaksin in a bloodless takeover, and the military installed Surayud as interim prime minister until elections set for October 2007.
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