Tuesday 27 September 2016

Bangkok explosion death toll rises to at least 16

* Bomb aimed "to destroy the economy and tourism" - minister
* Shrine a tourist attraction, also popular with Thais
* No immediate claim of responsibility

Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Andrew R.C. Marshall

Published 17/08/2015 | 14:01

A bomb planted at one of the Thai capital's most renowned shrines on Monday killed at least 16 people, including three foreign tourists, and wounded scores in an attack the government called a bid to destroy the economy.

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There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast at the Erawan shrine at a major city-centre intersection. Thai forces are fighting a low-level Muslim insurgency in the predominantly Buddhist country's south, but those rebels have rarely launched attacks outside their heartland.

"The perpetrators intended to destroy the economy and tourism, because the incident occurred in the heart of the tourism district," Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told Reuters.

Several media outlets had earlier reported that 27 people were killed but national police chief Somyot Poompanmuang told reporters the death toll was 16 in an attack he said was unprecedented in Thailand.

"It was a pipe bomb," Somyot said. "It was placed inside the Erawan shrine."

The shrine, on a busy corner near top hotels, shopping centres, offices and a hospital, is a major attraction, especially for visitors from East Asia, including China. Many ordinary Thais also worship there.

The government would set up a "war room" to coordinate the response to the blast, the Nation television channel quoted Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha as saying.

 

The body of a victim covered with a sheet is seen as security forces and emergency workers gather at the scene of the blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat SubprasomTEMPLATE OUT
The body of a victim covered with a sheet is seen as security forces and emergency workers gather at the scene of the blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat SubprasomTEMPLATE OUT
Security forces and emergency workers gather at the Erawan shrine, the site of a blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
Medical workers rush the victim of a blast at the Erawan shrine to a nearby hospital in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa
This image taken from security footage provided by Thai PBS shows the moment of an explosion in central Bangkok, Thailand, on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. (Thai PBS via AP)
Experts investigate the remains of destroyed motorcycles at the Erawan shrine, the site of the blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa
Experts investigate the remains of destroyed motorcycles at the Erawan shrine, the site of the blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa
Rescue workers carry the body of a victim from the Erawan shrine, the site of a deadly blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Kerek WongsaTEMPLATE OUT
Security forces are seen guarding a skywalk near the site of a blast in central Bangkok, Thailand, August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
A security personnel patrols a skywalk near the site of a blast in central Bangkok, Thailand, August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
Experts prepare to enter the scene and investigate around the Erawan shrine, the site of a deadly blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Blood and personal belongings of victims are seen as experts investigate at the Erawan shrine, the site of a deadly blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
The body of a victim is carried away from the Erawan shrine, the site of a deadly blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Experts investigate at the Erawan shrine, the site of a deadly blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Bodies of victims are covered with white sheet among wreckages of motorcycles and other debris as security forces and emergency workers gather at the scene of the blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Experts work at the site of the blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Security forces and emergency workers gather around a victim at the scene of the blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Experts investigate at the site of a blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Two people from China and one from the Philippines were among the dead, a tourist police officer said. A rescue agency said 81 people were wounded and media said most of them were from China and Taiwan.

"It was like a meat market," said Marko Cunningham, a New Zealand paramedic working with a Bangkok ambulance service, who said the blast had left a two-metre-wide (6-foot-) crater.

"There were bodies everywhere. Some were shredded. There were legs where heads were supposed to be. It was horrific," Cunningham said, adding that people several hundred metres away had been injured.

POLITICAL TENSION

At the scene lay burnt out motorcycles, with rubble from the shrine's wall and pools of blood on the street.

Earlier, authorities had ordered onlookers back, saying they were checking for a second bomb but police later said no other explosive devices were found.

Authorities stepped up security checks at some major city intersections and in tourist areas. The city's elevated railway, which passes over the scene, was operating normally.

While initial suspicion might fall on Muslim separatists in the south, Thailand has been riven for a decade by an intense and sometimes violent struggle for power between political factions in Bangkok.

Occasional small blasts have been blamed on one side or the other. Two pipe bombs exploded outside a luxury shopping mall in the same area in February, but caused little damage.

Police said that attack was aimed at raising tension when the city was under martial law.

The army has ruled Thailand since May 2014, when it ousted an elected government after months of at times violent anti-government protests.

The shrine intersection was the site of months of anti-government protests in 2010 by supporters of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Dozens were killed in a military crackdown and a shopping centre was set ablaze.

The Department of Foreign Affairs say they are aware of the situation, but have "no confirmation of Irish casualties".

People concerned can call the department on 01-408-2000.

More to follow.

Reuters

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