Thai bill targets Thaksin Shinawatra return


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The Independent Online

Thailand's politics is heating up over a bill that could herald the return of divisive ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, while his former top lieutenants prepare to re-enter the political arena after a five-year ban.

The party of current prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, hopes to introduce legislation in parliament today that is widely seen as a possible first step toward providing amnesty for her fugitive brother's convictions and allowing him to return unencumbered to Thailand.

Thaksin had been ousted by a 2006 military coup after being accused of abuse of power and disrespect to Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

His party was dissolved by a legal decision the year after, and he was among the 111 executives of his Thai Rak Thai Party banned from politics for five years. He also was convicted in absentia of corruption while in self-imposed exile.

The prospect of Thaksin's return has galvanised his opponents inside and outside parliament, threatening to reopen political wounds from a six-year struggle between Thaksin's opponents and supporters.

It comes the day after Thaksin opponents in the Yellow Shirt movement, from the People's Alliance for Democracy, were back on the streets in one of their largest demonstrations in recent months.

They oppose a government-backed reconciliation bill to grant amnesty to all parties involved in political violence and wrongdoing from the end of 2005 through to mid-2010, a period when Thailand was wracked by turmoil and street protests.

Yellow Shirts' protests in 2006 set the stage for the coup, and 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.

The street protests this week were peaceful, but the scene was different in parliament, where police had to keep order as the opposition Democrat Party sought to derail efforts to schedule debate on the bill.

At one point, a female Democrat MP dragged the House speaker's empty chair off the podium, sparking a scuffle with government members of parliament.

Thaksin's opponents sought to purge his influence after the coup, launching investigations of his finances and using other measures to try to cripple his political machine, which he built using a fortune made in telecommunications.