News

Thai police rule out terrorism as four killed in bombings

Thai police rule out terrorism as four killed in bombings

At least four people were killed and dozens of others injured as a wave of co-ordinated explosions rattled cities and resort towns across southern Thailand.

Police said about 10 foreigners were among the wounded.

It was not clear who was behind the attacks, but police said the violence was not linked to international terrorism or a low-level insurgency in the country's Islamic south.

The timing and scope of the attacks suggested the bombs were set off by opponents of the South East Asian nation's ruling junta, which last weekend organised a successful referendum on a constitution that critics say will bolster the military's power for years to come.

The explosions all occurred south of Bangkok and several of the blasts - including one on Patong beach in the tourist resort of Phuket, and three in the seaside city of Hua Hin - appeared designed to strike the tourism industry.

Thailand's economy has slumped since the military seized power in a 2014 coup. But tourism has remained one of the few bright spots, with more than 14 million people visiting in 2016 so far - up from 12.5 million the year before.

The most devastating explosions occurred on Thursday night in Hua Hin on a busy street filled with bars and restaurants. One Thai woman was killed and about 20 people were wounded, half of them foreigners, according to Police Lieutenant Chaiyot Tisawong. Their nationalities were not immediately known.

General Sithichai Srisopacharoenrath, the superintendent of police in Hua Hin, said the bombs were hidden inside potted plants and were set off by remote control, half an hour apart. He said a Samsung mobile phone had been recovered which they believe was used to detonate at least one of the bombs.

On Friday, debris and ball bearings could be seen strewn across the road as police investigated the scene. The blast damaged a pair of phone booths and shattered the window of a nearby Starbucks coffee shop.

Many shops in the city centre closed afterwards and normally bustling streets were empty.

Another bomb exploded in Hua Hin on Friday morning near a clock tower, killing one person and injuring four more.

Separate blasts were reported elsewhere in the south on Thursday night and Friday morning.

One exploded on Phuket city's popular Patong beach, injuring one person. Two more detonated in front of two police stations half an hour apart in Surat Thani in southern Thailand, killing one and wounding three. And two bombs exploded outside a market in Phang Na, damaging two vehicles but causing no casualties.

Earlier on Thursday, another bomb blew up in the southern province of Trang, killing one person and injuring six, according to Thai press reports.

Trang is on the fringes of Thailand's deep south, where a low-level Muslim separatist insurgency had killed more than 5,000 people since 2004. Almost all the violence has been in the three southernmost provinces.

In Hua Hin, tourist Shane Brett told the Australian Broadcasting Corp from his hotel room that there was panic after the first explosion there on Thursday.

"I was at a bar in the main bar district in Hua Hin right outside the Hilton Hotel and at first I heard kind of a bang ... and everyone kind of panicked," he said.

He looked outside and said saw people running. Half an hour later, making his way back to his hotel, he saw "a good few people injured and the whole area just panicking ... the whole area was just shut down with police cars, ambulances."

Thailand has been plagued by political violence, including several bombings, since the populist billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted as prime minister in a 2006 military coup after demonstrations accused him of corruption, abuse of power and insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The ousting of Mr Thaksin set off sometimes bloody battles for power between his supporters and opponents, who include the military. The government of his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who became prime minister in 2011, was toppled in the country's last coup in 2014.

On Sunday, Thai voters approved a referendum on a new constitution that is supposed to lead to an election next year. Critics say it is undemocratic and is fashioned to keep the military in control for at least five more years even if a free election is held.

In a speech on Wednesday night, junta chief and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha took credit for bringing stability back to Thailand after an extended period of unrest.

On Friday, Mr Prayuth said the government was doing the best it "could to provide security to the country ... We have to band together and stay strong."

Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, a junta spokesman, said Mr Prayuth "expressed his sadness over the unexpected and tragic incident (in Hua Hin)" and ordered police and soldiers in the area to step up security measures.

Friday's blast took place on the birthday of Thailand's Queen Sirikit. The junta has repeatedly said that defending the monarchy is a top priority, and the army and its allies are keen to ensure a smooth succession for Bhumibol, who is the world's longest reigning monarch.