Grenade Hurled at Bangkok Protesters

8:28 AM, Jan 17, 2014   |    comments
Anti government protesters cheer atop a truck shortly before an explosive device went off nearby, wounding more than 20 people on January 17, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo by Ed Wray/Getty Images)
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By Thomas Maresca and James Monroe Adams IV, Special for USA TODAY

BANGKOK - At least 36 anti-government protesters marching in Bangkok were wounded when a grenade was hurled in their direction on Friday.

"We're not sure if the aim was to take the life of (protest leader) Suthep (Thaugsuban) or to create chaos," said Akanat Promphan, a spokesman for the protest movement told USA TODAY.

The incident was the latest round of violence surrounding a movement to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra that has been going on for more than two months. Eight people have died and more than 450 have been wounded since the start of the protests, according to authorities.

"Yingluck is no longer legitimate. She has disrespected the law, she has committed corruption and the people don't accept her anymore. She needs to resign so we can pave the way forward," Suthep Thaugsuban, who was in the procession but was not wounded when the explosive device was thrown into a truck driven by demonstrators, told USA TODAY earlier this week.

The protesters are calling for the embattled prime minister to step down, claiming her government is deeply corrupt and still controlled by her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, the deposed former prime minister who has lived in Dubai since being convicted on criminal corruption charges in 2008.

Last month, Yingluck dissolved the parliament and called for new elections to be held on February 2. The move has failed to satisfy protesters, however, who are demanding that an appointed committee be established to institute reforms first. "Reform Before Election" has become one of the protester's key slogans.

Police said Friday's grenade was hurled from a nearby building. So far no one has claimed responsibility. A chaotic scene unfolded near the site of the explosion as protesters wielding sticks and pipes began a house-to-house search of the nearby neighborhood.

In one ramshackle dwelling, a weapons cache was found, which was seen to include the barrel of an M16 rifle, a collapsible baton, several knives, a handgun and walkie-talkies. The protesters were joined in the house by members of the Thai military, including The Royal Thai Air Force Explosive Ordnance Division.

The attack came on the fifth day of the "Bangkok Shutdown," a mass demonstration that closed off several of Bangkok's major intersections. The protesters, called the People's Democratic Reform Committee, have led marches around the city and to various government agencies since Monday.

While the atmosphere was mostly peaceful during the daytime this week, a number of violent incidents have taken place during overnight hours. Protest sites have been the target of shooting attempts this week, and small explosives were hurled at the homes of the governor of Bangkok, Sukhumbhand Paribatra, and Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The government's supporters, mainly drawn from the north and northwestern provinces of the Thailand and representing a clear electoral majority, are demanding the elections go on as planned on February 2.

Support for the PDRC protest movement is drawn primarily from Bangkok and the southern area of Thailand. Many of the protesters are middle and upper-class Thais, who complain that Yingluck and Thaksin have bought the votes of the their poor supporters with corrupt and wasteful populist policies.

Naris Swasdikulavath, a commercial airline pilot who came out to support the protests, said: "It's impossible to respect the election. We all know they buy votes directly and also indirectly with populist policies. That's our money. We're the ones who pay taxes."

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