BANGKOK (AFP) – Thailand’s junta chief Tuesday said any suggestion his regime was behind twin bomb blasts outside a Bangkok shopping mall was “brain damaged” as the military scrambles to reassure tourists that the troubled kingdom is still safe.
Two small homemade pipe bombs detonated outside the Siam Paragon mall on Sunday evening slightly wounding two people.
The blasts were the first major disruption to an uneasy peace imposed after the military declared martial law and took over in a coup last May.
The military have been rattled by remarks on social media speculating that the explosions –which came 10 days after the retroactive impeachment of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra – help justify the continued imposition of martial law.
“Some have countered that this was work of the government in order to maintain martial law. They are brains damaged,” Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who has appeared increasingly gruff in recent days, told reporters.
But he added: “If this was the work of rogue policemen or soldiers they must be punished.”
Authorities say they are looking for two men seen on CCTV shortly before the bombs detonated.
The explosions come at a time of heightened political tension in the deeply divided nation following the impeachment of Yingluck by the country’s junta-appointed rubber stamp parliament – an event that left many of her family’s “Red Shirt” supporters quietly seething.
Under martial law, political gatherings of more than five people are banned and so far Yingluck’s supporters have stayed off the streets.
But the military have nonetheless ramped up their monitoring of critics, calling in a string of prominent opposition figures for “attitude adjustment” talks and threatening dissenters with financial ruin if they speak out publicly.
The generals, who seized power promising to end a turbulent decade pockmarked by periods of intense political violence and coups, also fear that renewed clashes could put off tourists during the crucial peak season.
The tourism industry accounts for around 10 per cent of an economy that Thailand’s military rulers have struggled to revive since seizing power with exports and consumer spending still weak.
Government figures released Tuesday showed Thailand welcomed 2.65 million tourists in January – traditionally one of its busiest months.
The latest figures are a 15.9 per cent increase on the same month the previous year when protests against Yingluck Shinawatra’s were at their height.