Thailand's prime minister has appealed for an end to protests against an amnesty bill. The legislation would pardon a decade of political crime, allowing the return of the prime minister’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra.
On Thursday, with riot police and barbed wire blocking access to Bangkok's Government House, demonstrators marched in opposition to a bill backed by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's ruling Pheu Thai Party. The measure would absolve all leaders and protesters involved in political unrest in Thailand since 2004 of any wrongdoing - including the prime minister's brother.
"I want protesters to end the rally," the prime minister said in a televised address. "My government was born from elections so we respect the will of the people." She added that "protests affect the economy and hurt foreign investor confidence, and tourists will not dare to come."
Many said a bill passed Friday in the lower house and scheduled for debate Monday in the Senate would have benefitted the prime minister's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, toppled by royalist generals in 2006. Since 2008, the former telecoms tycoon has lived in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid prison for a corruption conviction in absentia that he called politically motivated, but many still consider him the de facto leader of his sister's ruling Pheu Thai party. He once described his prime minister sister as his clone.
Since the amnesty passed the lower house on Friday, it has inspired daily protests in Thailand. By midday Thursday, about 2,000 protesters, mostly well-dressed office workers, had gathered near a large shopping complex on Sukhumvit, blowing whistles to signal their opposition to the amnesty and partially blocking the four-lane road. Thousands of police manned barricades around the Government House, which holds the premier's office, and other buildings around the capital.
"There are 4,000-5,000 police to secure key government facilities," National Police Chief Adul Saengsingkaew told reporters. "We will only use tear gas if protesters trespass into high security areas," he added. "I am confident that everything is under control."
On Wednesday, the prime minister's Pheu Thai party had announced that it would not seek to force through the amnesty without approval by the upper house, where the speaker had predicted that senators would reject the bill. The party has also pledged to withdraw other bills related to a possible amnesty.
"We can solve it through negotiations," the prime minister said. "I don't want to see a drawn-out rally because the amnesty bills were all canceled and government will not resist the will of the people."
The lower house could reconsider the legislation in 180 days.
mkg/rg (Reuters, AFP, AP)