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Thailand Faces First Violence Since Military Coup

A bomb has exploded in Thailand's restive southern Muslim provinces - the first violence since Tuesday's military coup.

Four police officers were injured when a bomb exploded in the southern province of Pattani. The blast occurred as security forces were preparing for the arrival of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

It is the first violence to hit the volatile region since General Sondhi Boonyaratglin overthrew the government of Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless military coup Tuesday.

Sondhi, the country's first Muslim army chief in this predominantly Buddhist nation, had been tasked with trying to quell unrest in the Muslim south. Before the coup, he had been at odds with Mr. Thaksin over how to deal with the violence, which has claimed more than 1,400 lives since 2004.

Mr. Thaksin had deployed thousands of troops to the region and showed little interest in talks. Human-rights groups and many people living in the south complained of his heavy-handed tactics.

General Sondhi's ruling junta is facing a test of its ability to deliver on promised unity and stability before restoring democracy by late next year.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, says the ruling junta may look to the king for help.

"Thai people can be very fickle," he said. "The generals may have to look to the king - who is widely revered in Thailand - to try to promote a sense of reconciliation and stability and unity."

Despite lacking official power, King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been an influential figure throughout decades of coups and other political turmoil.

This week's coup was the first in 15 years. Sondhi and other top military leaders said the action was necessary to end political corruption that was dividing the nation.

Mr. Thaksin, now in London considering options, was the first Thai prime minister to be elected twice. He had been cleared several times of charges related to corruption, but the junta has appointed a panel to investigate his official and business dealings.

Since Tuesday, coup leaders have declared martial law, banned public gatherings and restricted the media.

Governments around the world have condemned the coup and the United States says it will review its assistance to Thailand.

The military junta has pledged to select a civilian prime minister within two weeks. Then an interim government will write a new constitution to pave the way for elections by the end of 2007.