BANGKOK • Police in Thailand yesterday questioned a taxi driver who may have driven the main suspect away from the area of last week's deadly attack in Bangkok, as forensic experts struggle to unearth vital evidence in the country's worst ever bombing.
The driver, who spoke to reporters before his police interview, said he had picked up a man who "spoke Thai with a foreign accent" and looked foreign, a description that matches a police warrant in circulation since the attack.
He said he drove the man from Rama IV road in the central business district, and dropped him off near Hua Lamphong station, the city's main train station.
Police earlier said the trail had gone cold in the hunt for the bomber, and they were unsure if the main suspect was still in Thailand.
Investigators have said the attack was clearly aimed at damaging the tourism industry but insist that Chinese tourists - who visit Thailand in larger numbers than any other nationality - were not singled out.
The Aug 17 attack, the first of its kind to kill large numbers of visitors to Thailand, has damaged its reputation as a welcoming and safe travel destination. Twenty people died, more than half of them foreigners.
But yesterday, the government asserted that the crucial tourist industry has not been affected.
"The number of tourists in prominent tourist attractions both in Bangkok and other provinces is still high," Colonel Winthai Suvaree, a junta spokesman, said in a daily broadcast, without giving numbers.
"The Ministry of Tourism and Sports has further reported that the statistics of foreign tourists travelling into Thailand is at the normal level," he added.
The Beijing-based China Comfort Travel Agency said that trips by the Chinese to Thailand have not been affected. "We've basically not had anyone cancel because of the bombing," it said.
However, an analysis released yesterday said bookings to Thailand were 65 per cent down in the first five days following the blast compared with the same period last year - a traditionally low season.
Data company ForwardKeys said the assessment came from looking at 14 million daily travel transactions, with the largest reduction in visitor numbers from Hong Kong, followed by China and Taiwan.
Business travel from China to Thailand saw a drop of more than 350 per cent, it said.
Nevertheless, analysts say it is too soon to know whether tourism has taken a hit.
Tourism accounts for about 10 per cent of Thailand's economy and was, until recently, one of its few bright spots amid flagging exports and low consumer confidence.
Thai police say the search for those behind the attack, which took place close to the national police headquarters, has narrowed as they come under increasing public pressure to catch the perpetrators.
Spokesman Prawut Thawornsiri said the police have "cut out a lot of suspects" but that he still could not confirm the nationality of the man seen in video footage.
The main evidence police have for the blast at the Erawan Shrine popular with Asian tourists is grainy security camera footage.
Meanwhile, regional organisation Asean issued a statement yesterday condemning the attack.
"Asean strongly condemns the bombing as it had in the past condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations," it said.
The group added that it was committed to working with the international community to "further intensify its cooperation to combat all forms of terrorism".
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE