Bangkok: The Australian government has upgraded its travel advisory for Bangkok after a surge of shootings and grenade attacks in the capital that left two children dead and dozens injured, many seriously.
“Travellers are strongly advised to avoid all protest sites and surrounding areas, political rallies and processions, political events and large-scale public gatherings due to the risk of further violence,” says the advisory on smartraveller.gov.au.
The re-issuing of the advisory on Friday followed criticism in a report published by Fairfax Media on Wednesday that the previous advisory should be strengthened to warn Australians of increasing dangers.
The advisory issued on February 19 made no mention of deadly attacks at protest sites that included an explosion last Sunday in Bangkok’s commercial centre that is frequented by tourists.
The new advisory refers to streets near protest areas that have been closed to vehicles and converted into outdoor markets.
Many foreign tourists have been visiting the areas, including Australians, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they have been the target of attacks. Some were with children.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has urged Thai authorities, anti-government protesters and parents to keep children out of the protest areas, declaring them “child free” zones.
Amid fears violence is set to escalate, Thailand’s army has stepped up patrols by soldiers across Bangkok, especially on elevated roads, walk-ways and high rise buildings.
Attackers have been using high vantage points to fire grenades from self-propelled launchers.
Soldiers are now manning 176 checkpoints, an increase of 150 from just a few days ago.
Since anti-government protests began last November, 21 people have been killed and more than 800 injured while Thailand’s economy has been dragged down and tourist arrivals have fallen dramatically.
Protesters are demanding the resignation of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who they accuse of being corrupt and a puppet of her elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.
Ms Yingluck denies the claims.
Her supporters say influential figures in Bangkok are plotting a “judicial coup” to force her removal with the support of state institutions, including judges.