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Noisy street protests fade as Thais ignore call for general strike over failed amnesty bill


Protester wave a Thai national flag and clapping tools during a rally against a political amnesty bill in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013. Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra issued a plea to protesters to end ongoing street demonstrations amid calls from the opposition for nationwide "civil disobedience" and a three-day general strike starting Wednesday. The political amnesty bill could have led to the return from exile of deposed former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who is Yingluck's older brother. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit) (The Associated Press)

A general strike called by the Thai opposition failed to materialize Wednesday, easing concerns of violence after two weeks of noisy street protests over a political amnesty bill.

The Senate's defeat of the bill Monday apparently satisfied many protesters. But opponents of the political amnesty, led by the opposition Democrat Party, vowed to continue their campaign against the government that proposed it. The threat raised fears that Thailand was back on a path to political instability, after years of often-violent political conflicts since 2006.

By midafternoon, a few hundred people had appeared at the main protest site in Bangkok, far lower than the tens of thousands who marched in the capital earlier this week.

Police Maj. Gen. Piya Uthayo said there was no sign that Bangkok businesses, schools or labor unions had heeded calls for the strike.

"The situation is normal," he said. "There hasn't been any state or private agency that has gone on strike yet."

The bill could have led to the return from exile of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, a polarizing figure who was deposed in a 2006 coup and later fled the country to avoid a corruption conviction. The government of current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, had backed the bill and pushed it through the lower house Nov. 1 but then withdrew its support to appease an angry public.

The opposition has called for businesses and schools to close until Friday to allow people to join the strike; a withholding of taxes that allegedly are used for corruption; the display of the national flag; and the blowing of whistles, which have become a noisy tool of protest, near government leaders.

A protest leader, Thaworn Senneam, denied Wednesday that the strike had flopped.

"Actually the word 'strike' in this context did not mean a complete shutdown. It was just an invitation for companies to spare some of their employees to come protest," he said, predicting a larger turnout after office hours.

Despite Wednesday's calm, more protests were expected from a rival group.

The pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" protesters who led the 2010 rally have called for a three-day rally next week to show support for the government.