May 22, 2017 9:37 pm JST

Bangkok bomb hits close to home for junta

Blast at military hospital injures more than 20 on third anniversary of coup

YUKAKO ONO, Nikkei staff writer

BANGKOK -- An explosion at a military hospital in Bangkok injured more than 20 people on Monday, the third anniversary of the ruling junta, underscoring Thailand's delicate political situation ahead of the first full-fledged election in seven years.

Chalermchai Sitthisat, the Thai army's commander in chief, told reporters in the capital that the blast was believed to have been caused by a pipe bomb, judging from the cords, nails and other remnants found at the site. "There could have been an intention to kill people," he said.

Local media outlets reported that 25 people were injured, with three in serious condition. Many of the victims were military officials; no foreign nationals were hurt, police said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The blast took place on the ground floor of Phramongkutklao Hospital, near a waiting room reserved for senior military officials. The hospital is a publicly run facility mainly for military officials and their families. This has led to speculation that an anti-military group may have been behind the bombing.

The hospital is situated near the Victory Monument, where large anti-government protests were staged in the last months of the Yingluck Shinawatra administration, which was toppled by the military in the May 2014 coup.

Officials have refrained from talking about the possible motivations behind the attack. "No political backing has been confirmed yet," said Piyapong Klinpan, spokesman for the National Council for Peace and Order, the junta's governing body.

The military government has sought to maintain order by banning political activity and limiting freedom of speech. The relatively calm streets of Bangkok can be chalked up to the military's firm hand, rather than any healing of the country's deep political rift, which is more than a decade old.

Despite the military's efforts, Thailand has seen some unrest over the past three years. A bomb at the Erawan shrine in central Bangkok killed 20 and injured more than 100 in 2014. Last year, a series of blasts struck seven provinces -- many of them targeting popular resort destinations.

This year, the day before the new constitution's promulgation in early April, an explosion rocked the corner of Bangkok where ministry offices are located. A similar blast followed in May near the Royal Palace.

Gen. Chalermchai said the hospital bomb, which was placed in a flower vase, was similar to the pipe bombs used in these two recent explosions. He suggested that the "same group" could be behind Monday's bombing.

The Stock Exchange of Thailand index closed at 1557.73 on Monday, up 0.5% from the previous session.

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