Grenade attack on Thai protesters leaves dozens injured
Police flee checkpoint as armed protesters approach
At least 46 people have been wounded in a grenade attack on anti-government protesters camped out at Thailand's Government House, the latest scene of violence in the country's growing political crisis.
The blast occurred around midnight Saturday night at Government House, where thousands of supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy, who have occupied the prime minister's compound in Bangkok since August in a bid to unseat him, were attending a rally.
A spokeswoman for the Erawan Medical Centre said at least 46 people were wounded.
"I had come down from the stage about 30 minutes before the grenade dropped into a crowded area," PAD leader Suriyasai Katasila told a local television network, Channel 3.
He blamed pro-government supporters for the attack, which came as protesters broke through a police cordon along a highway leading to Bangkok's international airport, raising fears of an imminent confrontation in a five-day standoff at the airport's main terminal.
Several hundred protesters in a convoy could be seen in video footage as they approached a police checkpoint, about one kilometre from Thailand's Suvarnabhumi airport.
About 150 police at the checkpoint jumped into their vehicles and sped off when they saw the convoy, according to witnesses. As the police vehicles passed, some of the protesters waved metal rods and threw firecrackers.
About 2,000 police officers were deployed around the airport, where PAD members have camped out since late Tuesday, forcing the cancellation of all flights.
The PAD is calling for the resignation of the government, which was elected last December, saying it is corrupt and hostile to the monarchy.
Its members accuse the government of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat of being a proxy administration for former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006.
Thousands of stranded passengers were in nearby hotels, waiting for the standoff to end, but Thailand's airport authority said Suvarnabhumi would remain closed until at least Monday evening.
A state of emergency has been declared at both Suvarnabhumi and the city's smaller Don Mueang airport, which was also overrun by protesters.
Several airlines have, since Friday, switched service to U-Tapao naval airport, south of Bangkok, to help passengers return home on relatively short flights to locations such as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The evacuation process, however, is very slow.
Dozens of Canadians stranded
Thai media have put the number of stranded passengers at more than 100,000, including dozens of Canadians.
Liberal MP Dan McTeague said Saturday it's "absolutely paramount" that the federal government step in to help Canadians trapped in Bangkok.
"With the potential for greater threats to safety, there does not appear to be any discussion or any revelation of an evacuation plan for Canadians there," McTeague said, suggesting it was strange that Foreign Affairs did not have an evacuation plan in place as it usually does in such situations.
Among the stranded Canadians is John [Jiggs] McDonald, a former NHL announcer and Hockey Hall of Fame member who lives in Orillia, Ont.
He was travelling with a group of Canadian tourists in Thailand when they became stranded. They're now waiting for more news at a hotel in downtown Bangkok.
McDonald told CBC News some of the senior citizens in his group are worried because their health insurance has expired.
"Many of us are running out of medication," he said.
McDonald said they met Saturday morning with the Canadian ambassador to Thailand but received no guarantee of assistance in getting out of the country.
"What we're seeking is a safe way out of the city and out of the country, not necessarily back to Canada, but get us to a gateway where we can make flight arrangements."
Several groups around the world have cancelled planned tours, and 88 aircraft, many of them belonging to foreign airlines, are parked at Suvarnabhumi unable to take off.
The airport occupations have dealt a severe blow to the Thai economy. They began as Thailand was gearing up for the start of its peak tourism season.
Bank of Thailand chief economist Amara Sriphayak said Friday the tourism industry could lose about $4 billion US in revenues next year, or 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product, if the political strife continued to the end of the year.
With files from the Canadian Pres, Associated Press, Reuters