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4 injured after multiple blasts hit Bangkok as city hosts top security meeting

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A crowd gathers near the site where explosions were heard in Bangkok, Thailand August 2, 2019.

[BANGKOK] Six explosions wounded at least four people at three sites in Bangkok on Friday, as the Thai capital hosted a South-east Asian security meeting attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and top diplomats from China and other world powers.

Small devices - believed to be so-called "ping pong bombs" around the size of a table tennis ball - exploded at several locations across the city. The first small explosions were heard during rush hour, just before 9am (0200 GMT) at two sites near central Bangkok. A third blast was heard shortly afterwards at a government complex hosting several ministries on the northern side of the city.

Four people were wounded, the Erawan Medical Center said. It added that "none are serious and all are receiving medical attention at hospitals."

Three of those hurt were women cleaning the street when a bomb went off. Pictures on local websites showed them looking dazed and getting treament from medics. One was seen being loaded into an ambulance.

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The other casualty was from a device that exploded near the 77-storey King Power Mahanakhon building, one of the tallest in the city. Police Colonel Kamtorn Uicharoen told Reuters a total of six bombs exploded. One was recovered before it blew up.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Thailand, which has a grim history of political violence, remains deeply divided after a controversial March election returned a Thai junta to power as a civilian government.

"I would like to condemn those causing the situation which destroys peace and damages the country's image," Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Twitter. "I have instructed officials to take care of public safety and those affected promptly."

Thai government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat said: "Security measures have been tightened. The public is urged not to panic." 

AFP said the explosions appeared to be symbolic attacks aimed at embarrassing the government during the major summit but not designed to cause mass casualties.

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Bangkok is currently hosting a regional security meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and their counterparts from world powers including the United States, China and Russia.

None of the Friday blasts were very close to the meeting venue.

On Thursday, Thai police said they had found two fake bombs near the venue of the regional meeting. The packages prompted a brief security scare but were quickly deemed harmless. It was unclear whether the meeting was the target.

Police said two men had been arrested in connection with the fake bombs. Mr Pompeo and China's top diplomat Wang Yi are attending the forum along with other regional and global officials.

The bombings took place just before a keynote speech by Mr Pompeo, in which he praised Thailand for rejoining the "democratic fold".

Thailand's government urged the media to avoid speculation on the motive for the bombings.

"We do not know yet how many people are involved," deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwon told reporters, adding that "people who do it want to stir the situation".

Bangkok was last hit by a series of small bomb blasts in 2017. One man was jailed for planting a bomb that wounded 21 people at a hospital. He was an opponent of the then-military junta, which was led by current prime minister Prayuth.

REUTERS, AFP