Thai Coup Rumors Dismissed Following New Year's Bombings

Rumors of a new coup d'etat swept Bangkok on Thursday night but were denied by the interim government and military officials in the capital, where tensions remained high after a string of New Year's bombings that killed three people.

Army commander Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, who heads the military council that seized power in a bloodless coup Sept. 19, called the reports of a coup "impossible," in an interview on Thai television.

Earlier Thursday, interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont warned that the country could face more violence in the future, though he did not indicate any specific threat.

In September, the military staged its first coup since 1991, ousting elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Capt. Yongyuth Maiyalarb, a spokesman for the interim civilian government appointed by the military council, said council members told him that they had received no reports that another coup by opponents was imminent, or of unusual troops movements that might signal a move by the military.

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Col. Sansern Chaengkamnerd, a spokesman for the military's Council for National Security, also told The Associated Press that coup rumors circulating around the jittery capital were baseless.

"There have been transfers of troops but it is for the purpose of providing security in Bangkok," he said.

An AP reporter saw no unusual activity near Government House, the office of Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, or at other key locations late Thursday.

It was unknown who was behind the Sunday night bombings, which resulted in an increased troop presence in Bangkok, especially in bus stations, airports and other transportation hubs.

Since the coup, the military has suggested that Thaksin's supporters have been trying to destabilize the country in a bid to take back power. After the bombings, the military implied — without explicitly saying so — that Thaksin supporters were responsible, but he denied the charge.

There has been speculation that the military may be dissatisfied with the performance of the interim civilian government it installed after the coup, and may prefer to take complete power for itself rather than work behind the scenes.

Sondhi led the coup after months of mass protests demanding that Thaksin step down because of alleged corruption and abuse of power.

Asked on TV whether the military council itself was responsible for the bombings, Sondhi denied it.

"I have risked myself to do what the people wished. Why should I do that?" he said. "I love my people and my country."

The bombings and the failure to catch those responsible are seen as embarrassing to the military.

The interim government, which is supposed to relinquish power after an election expected later this year, has drawn criticism for failing to solve several major problems, including an Islamic insurgency in the south and the rising value of the baht, which has hurt Thai exports.

The failure to restore peace in the south and the Bangkok bombings raised fears that the insurgency may be spreading north from the country's three southernmost, Muslim-dominated provinces. Nearly 2,000 people have died from violence in the past three years.

Surayud acknowledged Thursday that his government received intelligence in advance about two of the bombing targets, but said he didn't know who the culprits were.

Speaking to the interim legislature, he said the intelligence helped avert more casualties from the attacks — which killed three and wounded more than 40 people, including nine foreign tourists.

Surayud, appointed by the military group that carried out the September coup, said authorities should be prepared for more attacks. He did not, however, cite a specific threat.

"This isn't happening only now, but we have to be prepared to face a new threat that could harm people's lives in the future," he said.

Surayud said the decision by authorities to shut down public celebrations of the New Year following the initial blasts had saved lives.

One bomb went off at a shopping center named in the intelligence reports. Two more exploded shortly after midnight near a major shopping plaza — another of the sites named in the intelligence report — where the city's main celebration was to have been held.

No evidence has yet been made public linking anyone to the bombings.

While the bombs might seem similar to those used by insurgents, Surayud said, the type of devices used and the circumstances meant there was only "a very small chance" they were related to the southern violence.

"It is related more to people with ill intentions, and those who want to cause violence who are in our area, which is Bangkok," he said, without elaborating.

Political finger-pointing escalated over who was to blame for the bombings.

Former Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, a Thaksin ally, accused the military of mishandling the case, which he described as an inside job.

He strongly rejected allegations the former leader was involved in the blasts and directed the blame back at his accusers. He cited foreign reports that, he said, accused the government and the military's Council for National Security of carrying out the bombings to divert attention from their "failure to effectively govern the country.".

"This government is like a new driver who does not know how to drive and puts the blame on others when an accident occurs," Chavalit said Wednesday.

Gen. Saprang Kanlayanamitr, a member of the council — the power behind Surayud's interim government — defended the military. "We know that some renegade soldiers were the culprits in this incident, but the most important point is who was the mastermind of this, which the public will know sooner or later," he said.