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Death Toll Rises Following Devastating Bangkok Bomb Attack

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A bomb has exploded outside a religious shrine in a bustling hub of the Thai capital, killing at least 19 people and injuring more than 120 others in an attack authorities said targeted foreigners.

The blast occurred about 6.30pm (2130 AEST) on Monday when the streetside Erawan Shrine close to upscale shopping malls was packed with worshippers and tourists.

"I heard a very loud bang, it made the whole building shake so I ran outside to see what had happened," Panupan Chansing, 20, a hotel worker at the nearby Grand Hyatt Erawan, told AFP.

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"I saw bodies lying on the ground and I saw vehicles on fire. I feel very sad and sorry that this has happened to Thai people ... I'm scared."

Police confirmed 19 people were killed, including 10 Thais, one Chinese and one Filipino citizen. More than 120 others were injured, according to police.

The nationalities of the other people who died were not immediately clear.

But China's official Xinhua news agency said two Chinese nationals had died, while the governments of Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan reported that some of their citizens were injured.

Bangkok has endured years of deadly political violence, with a military junta now ruling the nation, and a decades-long Muslim insurgency in the far south that has claimed thousands of lives.

Police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri told AFP the blast was likely politically motivated and designed to bring "chaos".

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Thailand's defence minister said the bombing was aimed at foreigners in an attempt to damage the country's tourist industry, which is a rare bright spot in an otherwise gloomy economy.

"It was a TNT bomb ... the people who did it targeted foreigners and to damage tourism and the economy," said Prawit Wongsuwong, a former general who is believed to have been one of the key coup-makers.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, however, and it was unclear immediately who was responsible.

Islamic militants have carried out many attacks in other parts of Southeast Asia, including on Indonesia's holiday island of Bali in 2002 that killed 202 people.

But they have not made Thailand a prime target.

A government spokesman said it was too early to speculate on who was behind the attack.

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Glass was strewn across the street after the explosion inside the gates to the shrine, which is in the central Chidlom district close to the famous Sukhmuvit Road shopping strip.

Charred and shattered motorcycles littered the scene, alongside hunks of concrete, with pools of blood on the pavement and two bodies crumpled on the steps of the shrine.

The attack drew quick condemnation internationally, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office releasing a statement saying he was shocked.

"He expresses his condolences to the bereaved families and to the people and government of Thailand," the statement said.

"He hopes that those responsible will be brought to justice."

Deja vu for foreigners after Thai blast

Foreigners have expressed alarm tinged with a sense of deja vu after a bomb tore through central Bangkok in a devastating return of violence to the "Land of Smiles".

More than 120 have been wounded, many of them tourists who were visiting a popular religious shrine that was the target of the attack.

Whoever laid the device would have known the blast would kill and maim both locals and tourists alike, dealing a further blow to an already struggling economy where tourism has been one of the few bright spots.

Since 2006 Bangkok has witnessed repeated rounds of deadly violence, flanked by two coups that have seen the military claim the streets.

But until Monday foreigners had rarely been caught up in the bloodshed.

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Howard Fenton, a 50-year-old computer programmer from Australia, said he was dismayed to see violence return once more to Bangkok's streets.

"There've just been so many problems in Thailand over the years," he told AFP.

"You sort of hope that it's going to go away but when it comes back again it's pretty shocking. And coming this violently is a real worry.

"I really hope sense will prevail and it doesn't spiral into something really, really shocking," he added.

The blasts came just hours after fresh economic data showed Thailand's economy had slowed in the second quarter.

Tourism, which accounts for 10 per cent of the country's GDP, was one of the few positive growth areas.

Thailand had been expecting a surge in Chinese visitors in October for the annual National Day holiday, often dubbed "Golden Week" by China's neighbours because of the huge tourism bonanza it produces.

Soon after the blasts the country's tourism minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul visited the nearby Chulalongkorn Hospital where many of the Chinese victims were taken.

"We wanted to make sure there are translators ... because a lot of the Chinese they cannot speak English," she told AFP.

Asked whether the bombs would impact tourism she said: "This is a big concern for us."

No reports of Aust deaths in Bangkok: DFAT

It's too early to know if any Australians have been killed or injured in the Bangkok bomb blast, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says.

Officials are working with Thai authorities to determine if any Australian have been affected.

"At this stage we have no information that Australians are among the deceased or seriously injured," a DFAT spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday.

Australia has condemned the attack, which has killed at least 19 people and injured more than 120 others. Some of the dead are foreigners.

"The Australian government deplores the attack in Bangkok. The thoughts of all Australians are with the injured and the families of those who have lost their lives," DFAT said.

Authorities say the bomb was clearly aimed at foreigners, and went off outside a popular religious shrine in a precinct popular with tourists and dotted with high-end hotels.

Australian rocker Jimmy Barnes and his family were among those to escape injury after deciding on an alternative route past the precinct just moments earlier.

AFP

Photos: AAP

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