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Thailand army chief warns of national 'collapse'

BANGKOK -- Thailand's army chief warned Monday the country risks “collapse” unless it pulls back from escalating violence after attacks in recent days left three children dead in the kingdom's worst political unrest since 2010.

Twenty-one people have now been killed and more than 700 wounded in violence linked to almost four months of anti-government demonstrations.

Protesters want to unseat Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and dilute the influence on Thai politics of her billionaire brother Thaksin, a former premier who lives in exile to avoid jail in Thailand for corruption.

A brother and sister, aged four and six respectively, and a 59-year-old woman died after a grenade attack on Sunday afternoon on a busy Bangkok shopping district.

Police said the grenade was fired into the crowd by unknown attackers from an M79 shoulder-held launcher.

They said an officer also died on Monday, nearly a week after being shot in the head in a gunbattle with protesters in Bangkok's historic heart, a stone's throw from the city's backpacker zone, which killed five others — including another policeman.

Attacks have mainly been mounted in Bangkok, although a drive-by shooting late Saturday on a protest rally in the eastern province of Trat killed a five-year-old girl.

The current unrest is the most severe in the bitterly divided kingdom since protests by Thaksin-allied “Red Shirts” against a previous government in 2010 sparked clashes and a military crackdown that left more than 90 people dead.

“As days go by, there will be more violence until it cannot be controlled,” army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha warned in a rare televised live speech.

“If losses continue, the country will collapse for sure and nobody will win or lose,” he said.

Prayut urged reconciliation and talks. He said troops are “ready to do their duty” but “do not want to use force and weapons to unnecessarily fight with the Thai people.”

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Anti-government protesters wave national flags and shout slogans as they block the entrance to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok on Monday, Feb. 24. Thailand's army chief warned Monday the country risks “collapse” unless it pulls back from escalating violence after attacks in recent days left three children dead in the kingdom's worst political unrest since 2010. (AP)

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