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Thai police probe motives behind Sondhi shooting

THAI police said today they were not ruling out either political or "personal" motives in the assassination attempt on the founder of the "yellow shirt" protest movement and said five people may have been involved.

Sondhi Limthongkul survived after gunmen riddled his car with bullets at a petrol station before dawn yesterday. Doctors said his life was not in danger after an operation to remove bullet fragments and bits of skull bone from his head.

His People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) played no part in the political violence in Thailand over the past week, but Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has told police to come up with leads rapidly, knowing the assassination attempt could fuel tension.

The extra-parliamentary PAD mounted a street campaign that led to the military coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 and a similar campaign helped undermine two pro-Thaksin governments in 2008 after democracy was restored.

The latter movement culminated in a week-long occupation of Bangkok airports, which was ended when the courts made a Thaksin ally step down as premier and Abhisit was elected to replace him by parliament last December.

Sondhi, who founded the PAD in 2005 after falling out with Thaksin, a former business associate, was also a media mogul.

Police consequently said they were investigating both political and what they called "personal" motives for the shooting.

"We need to speak to Sondhi first to find out what he thinks is the real motive," Deputy Police Chief General Jongrak Juthanont told reporters

Evidence suggested five people were involved, he said.

Police have said 84 spent cartridges were found at the site of the shooting, near the central bank in Bangkok, and media have said three different assault rifles were turned on Sondhi.

"He asks us to tell the public that he is well and safe," said Dhiraphongs Chareonvidhya, Deputy Director of Chulalongkorn Hospital where Sondhi is recuperating.

Sondhi's driver is still in critical condition and doctors plan to do a third operation on him. A bodyguard suffered minor injuries.

The assassination attempt yesterday came hours before the government extended a state of emergency in the capital to help it restore order after the week's violence involving rival "red shirts" loyal to Thaksin.

Other leaders of PAD have told their supporters to remain calm and have not called for action, other than the continuation of scheduled local rallies, including one on the tourist island of Phuket today.

Thaksin's red-shirted supporters caused the cancellation of a summit of Asian leaders in Thailand last weekend after invading the venue in Pattaya and then staged protests in Bangkok, demanding that Abhisit step down. Two people died.

PAD leaders denounced the failure of the security services to prevent the attack on Sondhi, especially as security was supposed to be tight under the emergency, and called for the national police chief to be sacked.


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