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Thailand-Explosion_AppeThe devastating recent blast that killed 20 people,  half of them foreigners, in Bangkok undermines the current regime's claim to safeguard internal security and casts serious doubt on the immediate future of the country's lucrative tourism trade. 

Visitors from Britain, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia were among the victims in the bombing at the Erawan shrine – a popular tourist attraction that typifies the kingdom’s unusual blend of Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

Earlier this week, the former Thai Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra,took to social media to voice her concern and condolence over the tragedy, saying, "I would like to express condolences to the relatives of the deceased and those injured in bomb attacks in Ratchaprasong. I condemn those behind the bombings, which constitutes inhumane acts.

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"This is a serious trangression against the rule of law causing enormous damage to life and property of the people. In addition, the suffering inflicted on innocent lives.The disaster brings severe negative effect on the image of confidence and to the overall economy as well."

She added: "I call upon the authorities to deploy all resources necessary at full capacity to contain the damage and salvage the situation back to normal soonest possible."  Deep political divisions in the capital formed the backdrop to the deadly bombing and Thailand has suffered years of political turmoil but never a large peace-time bombing in the capital like that at the Erawan shrine. The military junta, headed by General Prayuth which took power in a coup during May 2014, had vowed to bring stability and heal the country.  The junta immediately sought to put blame for the attack on opposition in the north east of Thailand but despite this, many international observers agree that the attack represents an important breach of its pledge to maintain order.

According to the junta, their legitimacy rests not on popular elections or the purveying of democratic freedoms but on their claim to provide stability and security.  But, amid intense speculation as to the identity of the perpetrator and accomplices - and regardless of who the bomber is - the attack itself will inevitably call into question the fundamental premise on which the military junta’s legitimacy has been based since the coup: the return of security and stability.  Aside from security issues there is also growing concern about the potential impact of tourism, a long time bedrock of the Thai economy, which had started to improve since the coup.  In the five days following the bombing, travel bookings to Thailand suffered a 65 percent drop compared to the same period last year.

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Business travel from China to Thailand also reportedly saw a drop of more than 350 percent.  There are fears now that tourism will slump as is the case in Tunisia following the devastating beach attack there earlier this year.  British nationals make over 900,000 visits to Thailand every year and since the attack the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has updated its travel advice to Thailand.

It says that while most visits are trouble-free there have been attacks,sometimes violent.  It points out that on 1 February there were 2 explosions at the Siam station of Bangkok’s Skytrain (BTS) system, near the entrance to the Siam Paragon shopping mall. One person was injured. On 10 April a car bomb exploded in the underground car park of the Central Festival shopping mall in Bho Phut on the island of Koh Samui. Seven people were injured in the explosion, including one foreigner.

The FCO said "There is a high threat from terrorism and we advise against all but essential travel to the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla on the Thai-Malaysia border."  It goes on to state that martial law was in place across Thailand until 1 April when it was lifted from all areas except the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, the Sadao district of Songkhla province and some border areas.  "However," it says, "Article 44 of the interim constitution gives General Prayuth wide powers to continue to take action to enforce law and order and restrictions remain on freedom of assembly and expression. Before the military coup there were large-scale demonstrations and protests in Bangkok and other cities. Some of these were violent."  It says visitors should "avoid any protests, political gatherings, demonstrations or marches."  The FCO adds, "A number of media outlets have been taken off air and some internet sites remain blocked. It’s illegal to criticize the coup and visitors should be wary of making political statements in public."

The haste with which the crime scene at the shrine was cleaned has also been questioned, with some suggesting it was done in a rush to restore public confidence, possibly at the expense of collecting more evidence. The area was hosed down less than 24 hours after the blast, and the bomb crater was patched over in less than 48.  Since the removal of Yingluck Shinawatra, the former democratically elected leader, recent events in Thailand have been marked by the promulgation of a highly controversial new constitution, or Thai charter, and efforts by the coup plotters to further curb Shinawatra's lingering influence and popularity.

The regime claims that the aim has been to restore stability but any success it may have had has come at a cost. Martial law was declared (it was eventually lifted ten months after the coup), civil liberties curtailed, opposition suppressed, and the legal reach of the state extended  One EU based foreign affairs expert said, "The most convenient move the regime can make is to blame the attacks on political opponents.But regardless, the bombing poses considerable challenges for the military junta in the here and now.  "Further actions that might entail the curtailing of freedoms would likely have negative repercussions on the legitimacy of the junta in the eyes of the population."

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