Police defuse bomb near home of Thai prime minister

Police explosive experts defused a bomb hidden in a car near the residence of Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Bangkok Thursday and charged an army lieutenant in an alleged plot against the leader, police and officials said.

Police explosives experts defused a bomb hidden in a car near the residence of Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Bangkok Thursday and charged an army lieutenant in an alleged plot against the leader, police and officials said.

Thaksin said he knew who was behind the plot but that he wouldn't name the masterminds publicly. He fired a military general who was deputy head of a key intelligence agency and who police said employed the suspect as his driver.

Lt. Thawatchai Klinchana, an officer with the Internal Security Operations Command, was charged with illegal possession of an explosive device, police Lt. Gen. Montree Jamroon told a press conference. He said more charges would be slapped on Thawatchai as the investigation continued.

Col. Kosol Ngampramuan, chief of the bomb squad, said a 22-kilogram bomb and 10 sticks of dynamite were found in the car belonging to Thawatchai, who was seized after fleeing from the vehicle. The explosives were defused and the vehicle was towed to a safe location.

Police said the vehicle was driven back and forth near Thaksin's residence and a security guard for the prime minister urged police to chase and stop it.

Interior Minister Kongsak Wantana said Tuesday he had intelligence about a plot to harm the prime minister, who has been the target of peaceful protests since late last year. Thaksin has been accused of corruption and abuse of power.

The confrontation has resulted in an ongoing political impasse, bitter divisions in Thai society and legal entanglements. An October election, some analysts say, may put the country back on course.

"I learned about the plot to harm me and my family two weeks ago. My family and I are being more cautious for the time being," Thaksin told reporters.

"I know the people who are behind the plot but I cannot say who they are. It is the duty of investigators to find out," he said.

Government spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee said Thaksin reacted calmly to the report of the bomb but fired Gen. Pallop Pinmanee, deputy chief of the Internal Security Operations Command, because Thawatchai had served under him.

"This is the attempt of a group of people to harm the prime minister. The group has lost power, lost benefits," the spokesman said.

"The prime minister is not afraid but the government is imposing measures to prevent such unwanted incidents," he said, without elaborating.

Thaksin later told reporters that he fired Pallop "because the position is not necessary now." He did not elaborate.

During the interrogation, the suspect admitted being a driver for Pallop but did not confess to the attempted bombing, police said.

In a fiery news conference, Pallop said Thawatchai was once his driver but now does intelligence work for him. Pallop denied that the two had plotted to kill Thaksin.

"I was once the head of a death squad [for the military]. If I wanted to harm the prime minister, I am certain that the prime minister could not have escaped from me," he said.