Grenade wounds 1 in Bangkok; Thai court releases Red Shirt protest leader;

Friday, July 30, 2010

Grenade wounds 1; Thai court frees protest leader

BANGKOK — A grenade exploded near a Bangkok shopping mall early Friday, wounding one person in the second explosion in a week in the Thai capital still rattled by deadly political clashes and living under emergency rule.

Also Friday, a top leader of Thailand’s Red Shirt protest movement, whose street demonstrations were violently suppressed by the army in May, was released on bail after being detained for more than two months on terrorism charges.

One person was in critical condition with shrapnel in his brain from the grenade, which was hidden in a garbage bag near a duty-free shopping center. The anti-government movement denied responsibility for a similar blast Sunday, which protest leaders say are designed to justify emergency rule. Thai authorities have decline to assign blame.

The Bangkok Criminal Court freed protest leader Veera Musikapong on 6 million baht ($186,000) bail. He is one of about two dozen Red Shirts who were arrested on terrorism charges after the end of the group’s two-month long Bangkok protests, which occupied the capital’s ritziest tourism and shopping area for weeks in a call for early elections.

About 90 people died and more than 1,400 were hurt in rolling clashes when Thai army and police moved to disperse the Red Shirts. The protesters were finally ousted on May 19 when the military sent in armored vehicles to crash through their bamboo-and-tire barricades.

The protest leaders quickly surrendered, but hard-core supporters set fire to Bangkok’s stock exchange and one of Southeast Asia’s largest shopping malls.

Veera is the first of the leaders of Red Shirts — formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship — to be freed. His lawyer had pleaded that he was suffering from ill health in prison.

Korbsak Sabhavasu, secretary general to the prime minister, told the court that Veera had opposed violence and sought a negotiated settlement with the government.

The court’s move came a day after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva ordered a state of emergency lifted in six provinces, but retained in Bangkok and nine other provinces.

Authorities have said the remaining emergency decrees — which limit public gatherings and censor the media — are necessary because of the potential for more violence.

The grenade that exploded Friday was hidden in a garbage bag in front of a residential building opposite the King Power duty-free shopping center in the Din Daeng neighborhood of Bangkok, said police Capt. Nitti Niruttiwat. It exploded at 1:30 a.m.

On Sunday, another grenade near a bus stop in another part of Bangkok killed one person and wounded 10. No one has claimed responsibility for either blast, and authorities declined to link them to the political turbulence.

The Red Shirts consist largely of rural and urban poor supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup. They claim Abhisit’s administration does not represent the people’s will because his Democrat Party did not win the last elections in 2007, but instead came to power in a parliamentary vote after court rulings ousted two pro-Thaksin governments.

The court forbids Veera to venture beyond Bangkok or travel abroad without permission. He is also barred from talking to the media.

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