Protesters block Thai Parliament over amnesty bill
BANGKOK – Protesters blocked Thailand's Parliament from opening debate Friday on a bill they fear will let former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra return from exile.
Pushing and shoving between protesters and police took place on the streets as the Thaksin opponents, known as the Yellow Shirts, demonstrated and turned away vehicles carrying ruling party lawmakers. While there was little violence, the actions were a sharp reminder of the political schism that remains since the 2006 military coup that ousted him.
Discussion of the bill granting amnesty for participants in recent political violence was postponed indefinitely after lawmakers could not muster a quorum, House speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont told reporters.
The Yellow Shirts, declared victory late Friday and ended their protests but planned to return Tuesday, when the House may attempt to reconvene. The government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, gave no indication it would withdraw the bill.
Her Pheu Thai Party sees the bill as a step toward reconciliation, absolving all parties involved in political violence and wrongdoing from the end of 2005 through mid-2010.
But its main purpose is widely seen as allowing Thaksin to return home without being jailed to serve the two-year corruption sentence he avoided by going into self-imposed exile. He contends his prosecution was political.
"I don't see any part of this bill that will truly benefit the country as a whole," said retired civil servant Chong Seelatham from Chachoengsao province, east of Bangkok. "As a Yellow Shirt, I would rather not get an amnesty if it means Thaksin doesn't have to serve his jail term."
"With a bill like this, don't even think of reconciliation," he said.
The Yellow Shirts pioneered the aggressive street politics that have marked Thailand's public life in recent years. Their demonstrations set the stage for the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin on accusations of abuse of power and disrespect to Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
In 2008, they occupied the prime minister's offices for three months and Bangkok's two airports for a week to pressure two pro-Thaksin prime ministers out of office. One protest blocking Parliament in 2008 turned into a riot when police fired tear gas; one person was killed and many others were injured.
Thaksin's supporters, the so-called Red Shirts, copied the aggressive tactics, and a deadly confrontation with the military in 2010 led to about 90 deaths.