Police investigate the scene of a blast in Bangkok on August 2, 2019. At least two small bombs rattled the Thai capital as it hosted a regional summit attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that left two people wounded. Photo: AFP / Lillian Suwanrumpha

Four people were injured when a series of small bombs went off in central Bangkok early on Friday. Six blasts occurred at three sites while some of the world’s top diplomats are in the Thai capital for a regional security summit.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are attending the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ conference and the ASEAN Regional Forum.

Loud blasts were heard near Chong Nonsi ‘Skytrain’ station and at the Government Complex at Chaeng Wattana in northern Bangkok.

A third explosion shattered glass near a well-known skyscraper. Bomb disposal experts were deployed around the Mahanakorn Tower – owned by the King Power group that counts Leicester City football club among its assets.

Symbolic attacks

The first of the small devices – believed to be “ping pong bombs” about the size of a table tennis ball – went off at around 9am. They appeared to be symbolic attacks aimed at embarrassing the government during the major summit but not designed to cause mass casualties.

None of the blasts was near the venue where the summit meetings were being held. However, police said they found two fake bombs near the venue on Thursday, which caused a security scare but they were later deemed to be harmless. Two men were arrested in connection with the fake bombs, police said.

On Friday, Renu Suesattaya, the director of Suan Luang district, said three people had received slight shrapnel injuries at the site where the first bombs were reported. “I received a report that they are ‘ping pong bombs’ hidden in bushes by the road.”

The Erawan Medical Center said three women were injured while cleaning a street when one of the bombs went off. Later, it was discovered that a fourth person also suffered minor injuries during the blast near the 77-story Mahanakorn Tower.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was told of “the bombing incidents and has ordered an immediate investigation”, Thai government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat said. “Security measures have been tightened. The public is urged not to panic,” she said.

“I would like to condemn those causing the situation which destroys peace and damages the country’s image,” the Thai Prime Minister said on Twitter. “I have instructed officials to take care of public safety and those affected promptly.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, on the sidelines of the 52nd ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. in Bangkok on August 2, 2019. Photo: Jonathan Ernst / AFP pool

The bombings took place just before a keynote speech by Pompeo, who joined the Southeast Asian Foreign Ministers’ meeting, in which he praised Thailand for rejoining the “democratic fold”.

The government urged the media to avoid speculation on the motive for the bombings. The blasts come just weeks after former junta leader Prayut was inaugurated as a civilian prime minister after a controversial election win that upset pro-democracy supporters in the politically divided kingdom.

The incidents brought back uncomfortable memories of Thailand’s last hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in 2009, when “red-shirt” protesters and supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra smashed their way into the summit venue in Pattaya demanding elections.

That caused the summit to be canceled and embarrassing scenes as regional heads of state and world leaders had to be evacuated from a hotel roof by Thai army helicopters while others fled by boat.

Thailand has a long history of political violence linked to mass protests, coups and short-lived governments.

-With reporting by AFP

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