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Thailand moves closer to passing controversial amnesty bill

Thailand’s parliament has moved a step closer to passing a law to pardon political crimes committed over the past few years. Some fear this could pave the way for a return of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The lower house of Thailand's parliament passed the bill by a vote of 310- zero with four abstentions in the early hours of Friday. Despite the lopsided result, support for the measure was far from unanimous. The opposition Democrat Party, which had spent around 19 hours in heated debate with the government over the proposal, refused to take part in the vote, walking out of the chamber just as it was about to start.

However, Democrat officials said that just because they had boycotted the vote did not mean they had given up the fight to prevent the amnesty from being passed into law.

"We will continue our fighting in the street until the bill is aborted. There are other avenues such as by petitioning the Constitutional Court," party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut told the AFP news agency.

As parliamentarians were debating the bill, thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets of Bangkok to protest against it.

The governing Puea Thai Party of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra argues that Thailand needs the legislation to move on from years of turmoil, which culminated in a military crackdown in 2010, following clashes between supporters and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The opposition and human rights groups argue that it would whitewash the crimes of Thaksin, who was convicted of corruption in 2008 and has been living in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid prison. They say this would pave the way for Thaksin, who is the brother of the current prime minister, to return to the country.

The amnesty would also apply to those accused of being behind the deadly 2010 crackdown, including then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

pfd/mz (AFP, dpa, AP)