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Police: Small time bomb caused Myanmar hotel blast

7:46 AM, Oct 15, 2013   |    comments
In this photo taken on Monday, Oct. 14, 2013, photographs of a homemade time bomb in a plastic bag found at a restaurant, is displayed at a police station in Yangon, Myanmar. Police urged vigilance after several small bombs exploded in and around Myanmar's largest city of Yangon in recent days. No one claimed responsibility for the boast and its was not immediately clear if they were related. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)
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YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - An explosion that injured an American guest in one of the ritziest hotels in Myanmar's main city was caused by a small, homemade time bomb placed in her room, police said Tuesday.

It was the most high-profile in a series of explosions that the government alleges is an attempt to tarnish the image of the budding democracy as it emerges from decades of oppressive military rule. In less than a week, a restaurant, two bus stops, Buddhist temples and a market have been targeted.

Police officer Myint Htwe said three suspects were detained in connection with the blast midnight Monday at the Traders Hotel, located in the heart of Yangon and one of the most popular spots among foreign tourists, business people and aid workers.

The crude device was hidden in the bathroom, wounding a 43-year-old American woman, police said. Her husband and two young children, aged 5 and 7, were unharmed. It did not appear that the family had been directly targeted.

Thick shards of glass from the shattered windows of the ninth-floor room landed in the street more than 30 meters (100 feet) away.

State-run TV said a fourth suspect, apparently captured on the hotel's security camera, was hauled in by authorities in Mon State.

The country has been rocked by small explosions in recent days, including two before dawn Tuesday in Saggaing near Mandalay - just hours after the attack on the Traders Hotel. Police said the first of those explosions occurred in the restaurant of a hotel used by tourists and the second at the Taw Oo Pone Nya Shin Pagoda. No one was injured, police officer Tin Maung Aye said.

Few details were available about the other blasts, although one media report said they killed at least two people wounded several others.

"These are deliberate acts to create panic, but the people should be cautious not to fall into the trap," said Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who now serves as the opposition leader in parliament. She said it's very important for authorities "to urgently expose the perpetrators."

The government speculated the bombings are being organized by individuals or groups who want to smear the country's image as it prepares to take leadership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional grouping in 2014.

It is also hosting the Southeast Asian Games, a showcase sporting event, later this year.

"Someone or some organization" wants to "make the international community misunderstand the situation of stability and peace in Myanmar," said Ko Ko Hlaing, a political adviser to the president.

He ticked off the many potential suspects, from political dissidents to religious extremists inside the country and out, but stressed that the investigation was still in the early stages.

Small bombings occurred frequently in Myanmar during 50 years of military rule, most often blamed on armed exiled groups or ethnic rebels. But they have been rare since the nominally civilian government of President Thein Sein took office in 2011 and made sweeping reforms.

But many activists and rights groups say Myanmar is still far from free, and dissent is still frequently stifled.

A dozen police and heavily armed soldiers with a sniffer dog entered the Traders Hotel soon after the explosion.

Witnesses saw blood on the injured woman's arm and below her waist as she was escorted through the lobby by her husband and taken to a Yangon hospital. A U.S. Embassy official said consular officials had met with her and were providing assistance.

The wounds were not life-threatening. By late Tuesday afternoon the family was reunited and on a plane headed for Bangkok.

Traders Hotel general manager Phillip Couvaras said in a statement that the hotel, part of the Shangri-La group, was working with authorities to investigate what happened and would not comment further because it was an active police investigation.

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Associated Press writers Aye Aye Win, Esther Htusan and Todd Pitman contributed to this report.

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