BANGKOK — Dozens of people were wounded in Thailand’s capital Friday when a grenade blast ripped through a crowd of marching anti-government demonstrators, an ominous development that raises tensions in the country’s political crisis and the specter of more bloodshed to come.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban was in the procession but was not wounded when the explosive device was thrown toward a truck driven by demonstrators that was several dozen yards ahead of him, spokesman Akanat Promphan said.
Bangkok’s emergency services center said 36 people were injured, most not seriously, although at least one man was in surgery.
Thailand has been wracked by repeated bouts of unrest since the military ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 amid charges of corruption and alleged disrespect for the monarchy. The crisis boiled over again late last year after the ruling party attempted to push through an amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return from self-imposed exile.
Anti-government demonstrators seeking to oust Thaksin’s sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, occupied parts of several major streets and overpasses in Bangkok this week, blocking them off with walls of sandbags, tires and steel barricades.
The protests, which are also aimed at derailing Feb. 2 elections that Yingluck called in a bid to defuse the crisis, have been peaceful, and most of the city away from the protest sites has been largely unaffected, though many countries have warned visiting nationals to exercise caution.
But assaults have been reported nightly, including shooting attacks at protest venues and small explosives hurled at the homes of top protest supporters. It is unclear who is behind them. Yingluck urged police to quickly make arrests in the attack, saying she opposed any use of force and was concerned the situation in the capital was becoming more chaotic.
Prolonged violence, even on a small scale, increases the risk of a military coup, which would benefit the protest movement. Thailand’s army has staged about a dozen successful coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. Since the latest wave of protests started in November, at least eight people have been killed and more than 480 injured.