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Februari 15, 2012

Bomb plot deepens in Bangkok

Iran and Israel dropped diplomatic bombshells on each other Wednesday, accusing one another of being behind Tuesday's bomb blasts in Bangkok.

Israel was quick to implicate Iran in the bomb incidents. "The attempted attack in Bangkok proves once again that Iran and its proxies are continuing to act in the ways of terror and the latest attacks are an example of that," Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.

But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast denied his country was involved in any of the cases and said Tehran condemned any "terrorist action". He told the official IRNA news agency: "The aim of the Zionist regime's claims is to overshadow the assassination of Iranian scientists."

The Iranian spokesman also accused Israel of "trying to harm the friendly and historic relations between Iran and Thailand".

Also yesterday, the United States--a close ally of Israel--condemned the blasts in Thailand's capital and suggested they may be linked to Iran.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US was awaiting the results of investigations. She offered condolences to those injured.

'Iranian-sponsored links'

Nuland did not blame Iran directly. But she noted Monday's incidents in India and Georgia,

and recent "Iranian-sponsored" and "Hezbollah-linked" plots to attack Israeli and Western interests in Azerbaijan and Thailand. She called it "reprehensible" for states to use terrorism as a foreign policy tool.

Thai authorities are holding two Iranians in connection with the three explosions in Bangkok on Tuesday.

One of the men, named as 28-year-old Saeid Morati according to a passport found in his possession, lost both his legs when he tried to hurl an explosive device at police while fleeing an earlier blast at a house in the Sukhumvit area. The other Iranian was detained as he tried to board a flight out of Thailand. A third suspect who fled to Malaysia was arrested at Thailand's request.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul yesterday said Thai authorities have not described Tuesday's incident as an act of terrorism. But he urged terrorist groups not to include Thailand in their plots.

"At the moment, there is no evidence linking this incident to terrorism. So far the arrested [men] are accused of illegal use of explosives and of attempting to kill others and officials on duty," Surapong said. "Personally, I believe the incidents in Georgia, India, and Thailand have no connection."

He added, however, that: "I would like to ask people who think of plots harmful to Thailand to stop them. And I ask terrorists not to use Thailand as their base."

The foreign minister called his press conference yesterday after 10 foreign countries issued travel ad-visories for their citizens following the blasts. They are the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Norway, and Ireland.

Surapong meets US ambassador

Surapong said the US ambassador to Thailand, Kristie Kenney, had called him on Tuesday evening to ask for details about the blasts. The US Embassy later issued a warning advising American citizens to be careful when traveling in Thailand.

"I thank Ambassador Kenney for calling first. That allowed me an opportunity to explain the situation and the actions by the Thai authorities aimed at restoring foreigners' confidence," he said.

The foreign minister had earlier expressed his disappointment over a warning last month by the US Embassy about possible terrorist attacks in Bangkok.

Terrorism fears

Meanwhile, concerned tourism businesses yesterday called on the government to make it clear to the international community that the bomb blasts in Bangkok on Tuesday had nothing to do with terrorism.

"Reports from foreign news agencies have linked the bombing with terrorism in India and Georgia…[similar to] the US travel warning issued in January," said Kongkrit Hiranyakit, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand.

The reports said terrorists were targeting tourist spots and travelers. This will result in more countries issuing travel warnings, he said.

Kongkrit said such warnings would have a psychological effect on tourists, who would delay their trips to Thailand, as they did after similar advisories last month. Further violence or discovery of bomb-making ingredients would affect tourists' decision on whether to come to Thailand even more.

He said that when the United States and the United Kingdom issued warnings, other countries would follow. The government should investigate Tuesday's event and clarify the situation as soon as possible to reduce the number of countries issuing such advisories for travelers.

Kongkrit said 60-70 per cent of tourists coming to Thailand decided for themselves the destinations of their trips and might be influenced to avoid Bangkok. Although the government has said the bombings were not the work of terrorists, foreign news agencies were still linking them to terrorism. The government should present evidence to refute this belief, he said.

Sisdivachr Chewarattanaporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said it had been receiving questions from trading partners and tourists concerned over the bomb blasts. However, they have not cancelled their trips to Thailand yet, but are waiting for the government's investigation.

"We have been informed that Thailand is not placed on the risk country from tourists but Thai travel agents instead," Sisdivachr said.

He said that if the government did not come out with clear information and security protection measures, it would affect Thailand's tourism industry in the long run.

The private sector cannot assess the situation but has to monitor the progress closely day by day.

"The government should control the situation as fast as it can and should be careful when releasing details [so as not] to create panic that leads embassies here to issue warnings," Sisdivachr said.

He added that in some sensitive countries such as China, such warnings would discourage tourists from traveling here. Sisdivachr pointed that the government should more careful for foreign tourist entering into Thailand.
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