Four killed as bombers target tourist areas in southern Thailand
Published 12/08/2016 | 03:51
Attackers using fire bombs and home-made explosives have struck a series of popular resort cities and beach towns across Thailand in some of the worst violence to hit the country since a military coup two years ago.
At least four people were killed and dozens wounded, including 11 foreigners.
It was not clear who was behind the attacks, which followed a referendum last weekend on a new constitution that critics say will bolster the military's power for years.
The attacks occurred south of Bangkok and several of the blasts - including one on Loma beach in the tourist town of Phuket and four in the seaside resort city of Hua Hin - appeared designed to strike the tourism industry, which provides vital income to the government.
Police said fire bombs triggered blazes at markets and shops in six places, including Phuket, Trang, Surat Thani Phang Nga and a souvenir shop in the tourist town of Ao Nang, Krabi.
Thailand's economy has sagged since the military seized power in a 2014 coup, but tourism has remained one of the few bright spots, with visitors rising to 30 million last year and more than 14 million having visited by May this year, according to official figures.
Foreign governments issued warnings urging travellers to use caution and avoid affected areas.
Police said four of the injured tourists were from Germany, two from Italy and one from Austria. The Netherlands said four of its citizens were wounded.
Prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said the government was doing the best it "could to provide security to the country. We have to band together and stay strong".
Police said they were investigating all leads but had ruled out links to international terrorism.
Royal Thai Police Colonel Krisana Patanacharoen said it was "too early to conclude" who was behind the attacks, but he said the bombings followed "a similar pattern used in the southern parts of the country" - a reference to a low-level insurgency in the Islamic south that has ground on for more than a decade and killed more than 5,000 people.
Southern militants fighting for greater autonomy have carried out sophisticated, co-ordinated attacks before, but most have targeted three provinces in the far south.
The most devastating explosions occurred 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.
General Sithichai Srisopacharoenrath, the superintendent of police in Hua Hin, said the bombs were hidden inside potted plants and set off by remote control, half an hour apart. He said a mobile phone had been recovered that they believe was used to detonate at least one of the bombs.
Many shops in the city centre closed afterwards and normally bustling streets were empty, then Hua Hin was hit by another bomb near a clock tower, killing one person and wounding four more.
Separate blasts were reported elsewhere in the south. One exploded on Phuket city's popular Loma beach, injuring one person. Two more detonated in front of two police stations half an hour apart in Surat Thani, 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 - full of beautiful beaches and tourist islands - killing one person and injuring six, according to police and Thai press reports.
In a televised address, prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said the attacks "struck at the hearts of all Thai people".
He said it was unclear who carried them out but the government would do its best to investigate.