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At least 16 dead as bomb rocks central Bangkok: police

Update: August, 18/2015 - 00:19

 

Thai soldiers inspect the scene after the bomb blast in central Bangkok's Chidlom district on August 17, 2015. — AFP/VNA Photo

BANGKOK - At least 16 people were killed, including foreigners, and dozens injured when a bomb explode on Monday outside a religious shrine popular with tourists in the Thai capital, scattering body parts and debris.

The blast occurred about 6:30pm when the streetside shrine was packed with worshippers and tourists -- with the Thai police chief confirming at least 10 Thais, one Chinese and one Filipino citizen were among the dead.

"The death toll is now 16," police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said, adding the blast was likely politically motivated and designed to bring "chaos" in a the junta-ruled kingdom.

Glass was strewn across the street after the explosion outside the Erawan Shrine in the central Chidlom district, an AFP reporter witnessed.

Charred and shattered motorcycles littered the scene, along with hunks of concrete from the shrine, with pools of blood on the pavement and two bodies crumpled on the steps of the shrine.

"It was a bomb, I think it was inside a motorcycle... it was very big, look at the bodies," one visibly shocked rescue volunteer, who did not want to be named, said.

The city's medical emergency centre said more than 80 people were wounded by the blast, which rattled windows several kilometres from the site.

There were chaotic scenes at Chulakongkorn Hospital, one of a number of nearby medical facilities that received victims as nurses ferried the injured on gurneys.

One man who was conscious had visibly burned hair and a number of cuts that were bandaged, an AFP reporter on the scene said.

"Some (of the victims) are Chinese," Minister for Tourism an Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul said as she visited the hospital.

A Chinese and a Filipino were among those confirmed dead, Thai police said.

Charred and shattered motorcycles littered the scene, along with hunks of concrete from the shrine ( …

With rumours abounding in a city that is no stranger to major acts of violence, officials denied reports of more devices in an area, which is home to several high end hotels and major shopping malls.

'Foreigners targeted'

While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, suspicion swiftly fell on the kingdom's rival political factions.

Thailand has been seared by a near-decade of political violence that has left the country deeply divided and seen repeated rounds of deadly street protests and bombings -- but none on Monday's scale.

Many observers had predicted a fresh round of violence after the military seized power in a coup in May last year, toppling a civilian government led by Yingluck Shinawatra.

Thai rescue workers transport an injured person, one of scores wounded in the explosion in Bangkok on August 17, 2015. — AFP/VNA Photo

Thailand's defence minister said the bombers had targeted "foreigners" to try to damage the tourist industry, which is a rare bright spot in an otherwise gloomy economy.

"It was a TNT bomb... the people who did it targeted foreigners and to damage tourism and the economy," said Prawit Wongsuwong, a former general who is believed to have been one of the key coup-makers.

Self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is Yingluck's brother and who was toppled by a 2006 coup, sits at the heart of the political divide.

Parties led by him or his sister or supporters have won every election since 2001 thanks to the votes of the rural north and northeast. But he is loathed by the Bangkok-based royalist elite.

Thailand is also fighting a festering insurgency in its Muslim-majority southernmost provinces bordering Malaysia. More than 6,400 people -- mostly civilians -- have been killed there.

Thai soldiers and police stand guard on August 17, 2015 outside the Erawan Shrine, located on a traf …

In the so-called "Deep South", bombs are a near-daily reality alongside shootings and ambushes of security forces.

Civilians are overwhelmingly the target. But the conflict, which sees local rebels calling for greater autonomy from the Thai state, has stayed highly localised.

There has never been a confirmed attack by the insurgents outside the southern region despite the years of war.

The Erawan is an enormously popular shrine to the Hindu god Brahma but is visited by thousands of Buddhist devotees every day.

It is located on a traffic-choked intersection in Bangkok's commercial hub and surrounded by three major shopping malls. —AFP

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