Wednesday 28 September 2016

Dozens killed in bomb blast at Bangkok tourist attraction

David Blair in London

Published 18/08/2015 | 02:30

Wreckage of motorcycles are seen as security forces and emergency workers gather at the scene of a blast in central Bangkok yesterday, just outside a Hindu shrine in the centre of the Thai capital. Photo: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
Wreckage of motorcycles are seen as security forces and emergency workers gather at the scene of a blast in central Bangkok yesterday, just outside a Hindu shrine in the centre of the Thai capital. Photo: 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
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
Security forces are seen guarding a skywalk near the site of a blast in central Bangkok, Thailand, August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
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 work at the site of the blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
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
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 investigate at the site of a blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Security forces and emergency workers gather at the Erawan shrine, the site of a blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
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

At least 27 people are believed to have died and more than 80 were injured when a massive bomb exploded in Bangkok.

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According to local media, four foreigners were among the dead after the blast at the Ratchaprasong intersection in the centre of the Thai capital.

The Nation television station said 27 had been killed. The district is right in the heart of downtown Bangkok, an area crammed with high-end hotels and shopping malls and the well-known Erawan shrine, which is popular with locals and tourists.

David Eimer, who was at the scene, said that according to police, a woman planted a bomb in a bush and the bomb was not on a motorcycle as was reported initially.

According to ambulance workers, the victims were either inside or very close to the temple. Sources said some tourists and local Thais were among the victims.

"It was a TNT bomb. The people who did it targeted foreigners and to damage tourism and the economy," said a police spokesman.

"With at least 15 dead and many injured and a scene of carnage around one of the country's most sacred places, in one of the areas most frequented by foreign visitors, it is likely that this disastrous event will have longer-term consequences for Bangkok."

Thailand expert Tom Varter, who lives in the city, said: "Whether Thailand's teflon image as the Land of Smiles will win the day once the dust has settled remains to be seen.

"To some extent, it will depend on whether the culprits are caught and which group opposed to military rule they belong to. The blast may also lead to more tightened security and a bigger military presence on the streets, which may in turn affect tourism."

According to the British embassy, there is a high threat from terrorism in Thailand. Previous terrorist attacks in the country include two bombings at night markets in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, in 2010, and a series of explosions in Bangkok in 2012 that injured five, which Thai authorities said were a failed attempt by Iranian nationals to assassinate Israeli diplomats.

In February 2015, two small explosions injured one person near the entrance to the Sian Paragon shopping mall, some 500 metres from the site of yesterday's bombing.

As of last night, no group or individual had claimed it.

Anusit Kunakorn, secretary of the National Security Council, said Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former army chief who orchestrated the May 2014 coup, was closely monitoring the situation.

"We still don't know for sure who did this and why," Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon told reporters. "We are not sure if it is politically motivated, but they aim to harm our economy and we will hunt them down."

Although Bangkok has seen a period of relative calm since last year's coup, there has been some tension in recent months, with the junta making clear that it may not hold elections until 2017 and wants a constitution that will allow some type of emergency rule to take the place of an elected government.

Stirring the pot has been former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and fled the country to avoid a corruption conviction. Last week, Thaksin posted a message on YouTube urging his followers to reject the draft constitution because he said it was undemocratic. The draft charter is supposed to be voted on next month by a special National Reform Council. If it passes, it is supposed to go to a public referendum around January.

Another source of recent tension is the annual military promotion list, with the junta's top two leaders - Prime Minister Prayuth and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit - widely believed to be supporting different candidates.

The reshuffle, which comes into effect in September, has traditionally been a source of unrest, as different cliques in the army, usually defined by their graduating class in the military academy, seek the most important posts to consolidate their power.

Irish Independent

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