Grenade Attack Cripple's Bangkok Business District

Residents of the Thai capital Bangkok are braced for more violence after a deadly grenade attack. Earlier this month, 25 people were killed when protesters clashed with security forces. Protesters began a campaign last month to dissolve Parliament and hold elections immediately.

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The demonstrations now shutting down parts of Bangkok are part of a long-running struggle. Protestors in red shirts have shutdown parts of the city; they mostly come from the countryside, and they're demonstrating against Thailand's traditional elites. Now, their protest is leading to fears of civil war. And in Bangkok, at least three people were killed and dozens more wounded in a grenade attack last night.

NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Bangkok.

(Soundbite of a song)

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: The festive music blaring from the protestors' loudspeakers belie the tension, this morning, at the entrance to the financial district, just hours after the grenade attacks.

It's here that the military is drawn its line in the sand, refusing to allow the protestors to occupy the business district as they have the up-market shopping area nearby, where malls and five-star hotels have been shuttered for weeks now.

(Soundbite of music)

SULLIVAN: Here, the demonstrators are hunkered down behind their Mad Max-style barricade of tires and sharpened bamboo poles. The heavily-armed soldiers are on the other side of the street, behind rolls of razor wire.

The government says last night's grenades were fired from inside the Red Shirts' camp. Nonsense, says 45-year-old Yatkipchit Choy(ph).

Ms. YATKIPCHIT CHOY: No bombs. No bombs from us. From bombs from where we dont know. From where? We dont know because we are here. Government say Red Shirt do, but we not do anything. We are dancing, you see?

SULLIVAN: Another Red Shirt points to the upper floors of nearby office buildings overlooking the site where he says army snipers are watching and waiting.

Yatkipchit Choy says she's not scared of dying and says she's staying until Prime Minister Abhisit Wechachiwa and his government go.

Ms. CHOY: We want Abhisit to surrender the power back to the people, because Abhisit did not come from democratic way. Abhisit come from army.

SULLIVAN: The Oxford-educated Abhisit is still hanging on, with help from the military and other elements of the political elite. Many middle and upper-class residents of the capitol see the Red Shirts as a bunch of ignorant hillbillies, paid to protest by shadowy men working for fugitive Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

For the past two nights, several hundred of these government supporters have been taunting the Red Shirts near the business district, hurling rocks and insults, calling the Red Shirts quai, or water buffalo - the Thai equivalent for stupid, or worse. So far, the Red Shirts have refused to take the bait.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

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SULLIVAN: But for a supposedly ignorant mob, the Red Shirts have proven both resilient and adaptable. Accused this week of being disloyal to the country and the king, the Red Shirts responded by starting their daily protests with the national anthem before resuming their verbal attacks on the prime minister.

They insist they are not disloyal, just dissatisfied with a political system that favors the traditional elite at the expense of the long-neglected rural majority.

The protest and fundraising are also spreading. Red Shirts in the north, this week, stopped a train load of troops and their transport from heading south, fearing they would be used against their colleagues in the capitol.

Meanwhile, the economic cost of the protests is beginning to be felt in many sectors, especially tourism.

Ms. RATIA TOMTONLAN(ph) (Travel Agent): From 10 April to now, no customers. Sometime only one person come and buy some tickets for go out from Thailand.

SULLIVAN: Not come in.

Ms. TOMTONLAN: No.

SULLIVAN: Ratia Tomtonlan runs a small travel agency, not far from the protestors' main venue. She says business is down 60 percent since the protests began. At this rate, she says, she can only last another month.

Back in Silom, the business district the military was supposed to protect, last night's grenades have spooked many.

Parishad Wocktchukdi(ph) runs a sidewalk coffee stand near where the grenades struck. Yesterday she was swamped with customers, but not today.

Ms. PARISHAD WOCKTCHUKDI (Vendor): Not good, yeah. And many company closed. No people walk to work.

SULLIVAN: So business down, how much?

Ms. WOCKTCHUKDI: Eighty percent.

SULLIVAN: Eighty percent?

Ms. WOCKTCHUKDI: Yeah, 80 percent, about.

SULLIVAN: She says she's scared. Scared there's going to be more fighting, big fighting, soon, between the army and the Red Shirts. She's not the only one who thinks so.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Bangkok.

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