BANGKOK: Three have been killed been killed and at least 75 injured in four low-intensity explosions at an elevated train station in Thailand.
Initial reports suggested that an M79 grenade launcher caused the explosions, said government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn, adding at least one foreigner was wounded. Three hospitals in the area said 75 people were injured in total, and Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva immediately called an emergency meeting with security officials.
The blasts came as pro-government demonstrators massed close to the rally site of rival "Red Shirt" protesters who have paralysed the capital's commercial heart in their bid to overthrow the government.
Thailand's military said earlier Thursday that it wanted to avoid further bloodshed in the standoff with the anti-government protesters, but warned time was running out for the Red Shirt demonstrators to leave their fortified base. The Reds, who accuse the government of being undemocratic and elitist, have fortified their rally base with barricades made from bamboo poles and piles of car tyres.
The army this week signalled it was preparing to crack down on "Red Shirts" camped out in Bangkok's commercial heart, after a failed attempt earlier this month to disperse protesters sparked violent clashes that left 25 people dead.
But the mostly poor and rural Reds, who have been demonstrating in the capital for weeks in their bid to topple Abhisit's government and seek immediate elections, remained defiant and ruled out talks until the military withdraws. Abhisit also said it would be difficult to return to negotiations in the current climate. He declined to say whether the government was planning another crackdown but said the authorities needed to act "carefully".
"We don't want you to risk your lives. If there is a clash you could be hurt by stray bullets," said army spokesman Sunsern Kaewkumnerd. "Your time is running out. Please leave the area." Earlier this week he warned that the protesters faced tear gas and live weapons fire in any new clashes with security forces. The country's army chief, however, sounded less bellicose Thursday, saying he hoped to end the standoff without any more blood being spilled.
"Whatever I do will depend on the situation, and the outcome would be good for the country and we can uphold the law with no people dead or injured," General Anupong Paojinda told AFP. Any action "must be legally responsible", added Anupong, who was last week put in charge of security in the capital by the government.
The have protesters appealed to the United Nations to send a peacekeeping force to Bangkok to help them. They urged UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a letter to "condemn and stop this government's crackdown so that innocent lives will not be lost". The political crisis has spread to the rural northeast, where protesters blockaded a military train and forced busloads of troops to return to their bases.
Police said the train was headed for the Muslim-majority southern provinces where a separatist insurgency is raging, and later struck a deal with the Red Shirts who will now accompany it on its journey. The protesters are mainly supporters of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and is living in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.
The Reds say Abhisit's government is illegitimate because it came to power in a parliamentary vote at the end of 2008 after a court ruling removed Thaksin's allies from office. The United States urged both sides to seek a peaceful resolution to the weeks-long crisis, which has shut down the Thai capital's retail and hotel heartland, worsening the damage to the economy of the tourist destination.
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