A LARGE bomb rocked central Bangkok's Ratchaprasong area last night, killing at least 16 people and injuring dozens more last night.
The blast - perhaps the biggest attack in the country - was the first major violence following the May 2014 coup. It appeared to target the city's Erawan Shrine, which is popular with Chinese tourists.
Police spokesman Pol Lt Gen Prawut Thavornsiri confirmed Tuesday morning that the death toll has risen to 20 and 125 people were injured.
National police chief Pol General Somyot Poompanmuang condemned the fatal attack, saying the suspects were very cruel and had every intention to kill innocent people.
"I want to condemn the attack and the attackers who were brutal as they attacked the Erawan Shrine at about 7pm, when it is usually packed with foreign tourists and worshippers," Somyot said.
Roads leading to Ratchaprasong Intersection would be closed until noon August 18 so police can collect evidence from the scene, he said.
At the time of the blast, Ratchaprasong and the Erawan Shrine were packed with motorists, tourists and worshippers.
The National Council for Peace and Order, which is led by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, called an urgent meeting following the blast.
Somyot said a Chinese and a Filipino national were among those killed. Earlier, unconfirmed reports claimed four foreigners were among the casualties.
Somyot said initial inquiries showed the suspects had planted an improvised explosive device under a chair close to the fence of the Erawan Shrine. It was a 3kg TNT explosive with a capacity to damage a 100-metre area.
Somyot said he had informed Prayut as well as Deputy Premier and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan of the incident, adding he was not ruling out any possible cause for the attack. The authorities have ordered police to ensure public security.
Initial reports said at least 15 were killed and 100 injured in the explosion that occurred just before 7pm. Somyot said another suspected bomb was found by a bomb squad in the same area.
The Police Hospital asked for the public to donate blood for dozens of injured victims. Most of the injured were Chinese tourists who were believed to be paying respect to the shrine when the blasts took place.
"It was a TNT bomb... the people who did it targeted foreigners and to damage tourism and the economy," Prawit said.
Witnesses believed there were two blasts, with the first bomb detonated on a motorcycle parked on the street, while a second was near the Erawan Shrine. The usually busy Ratchaprasong area was immediately sealed off.
Former deputy government spokesman MajGeneral Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Prawit was assigned by the PM to take charge of the situation. He said it was too early to pinpoint the cause.
Security sources said the incident was believed to be politically motivated, and may involve the move to strip former PM Thaksin Shinawatra of his police rank, the draft charter, the looming military reshuffle, and the spillover from unrest in the deep South.
"I was having dinner at the Hyatt Erawan when a large explosion shook the building," said Eric Seldin, an office worker told DPA. "When we were allowed outside 15 minutes later we saw several bodies covered under white sheets and damage to a nearby shrine."
TV footage showed emergency workers assisting survivors and body parts scattered on the road. A bomb crater was visible in the courtyard of the Hindu shrine.