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Close call for Thai premier

Blast that gutted plane before he was to board came from under seat

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — The blast that gutted a Thai Airways airplane minutes before Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was to board came from beneath his assigned seat, his security adviser said Sunday. Thaksin said it could have been an inside job to assassinate him.

The Boeing 737-400 blew up and burned on the tarmac Friday, 35 minutes before its scheduled departure from the domestic terminal at Bangkok International Airport.

One crew member preparing for the 70-minute flight to Chiang Mai was killed, and seven airline workers were injured. None of the 149 listed passengers, including Thaksin, had boarded.

Investigators sifting through the plane's charred and broken wreckage have not revealed the cause of the explosion.

But Prasarn Wongwai, a former police general who is Thaksin's security adviser, said "the source of the explosion came from where the prime minister was supposed to be seated."

He told the Ruam Duay Chuay Kan radio station he suspected a bomb "of white phosphorus type."

An unidentified airline source told The Nation newspaper that the blast went off under seats 11A and 11B, where Thaksin and his son, Phanthongthae, were to sit.

Airline officials said it was impossible for the plane to explode from an internal malfunction since the engines had not yet been started. The fully loaded fuel tanks, located in the plane's wings, were intact, they said.

"It is relatively clear now it was not the engine, and the only thing that it could definitely be is an explosive device," Thaksin told reporters in the northern town of Chiang Mai in comments broadcast by Thai radio stations.

Thaksin speculated that the explosion was an assassination attempt, but did not say who would want him out of the way.

It would have been an inside job, he noted. He said he originally planned to go to Chiang Mai on Sunday, but told his secretary Friday evening to change the flight to Saturday afternoon. He was to be accompanied by his son and the secretary.

"If I was a target of the explosion, the one who placed the bomb should have had access to my schedule," Thaksin said, adding that he believed the blast was intended as a "threat to life" but was not the work of terrorists.

Thaksin took power only two weeks ago after his Thai Rak Thai party won the Jan. 6 general elections by an unprecedented margin. The campaign was marred by violence and vote fraud, which is not unusual in Thai elections.

The explosion came two days after Thaksin gave Thailand's Constitutional Court 21 boxes of documents as part of his defense against a corruption indictment that could evict him from office. He is accused of deliberately concealing assets in 1997 by transferring large amounts of stock shares to domestic servants.

Thailand, which has enjoyed political stability over the past eight years, has a history of violent coups and government overthrows. However, no prime minister has ever been assassinated, and there were no reports of death threats against Thaksin.

Thai newspapers Sunday suspected drug-smuggling rings.

Soon after taking office, Thaksin pledged to crack down on narcotics smuggling, largely blamed on drug lords in neighboring Myanmar, also known as Burma. He is to meet next weekend with government agencies to form a strategy on fighting drugs.

Thaksin, who instead flew to Chiang Mai by a military plane, returned to Bangkok later Sunday after celebrating the opening of a relative's shopping mall there.

He said he has used "too little security" in the past. "From now on, I have to step up the security for myself."