Thousands of protesters marched across Bangkok on Monday venting anger at a bill passed by Thailand’s lower house of parliament which could erase corruption convictions against the exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, smoothing his passage home.
Crowds swarmed across central Bangkok and gathered at a monument in post-monsoon sunshine as they urged the Senate to reject the controversial bill and Thaksin to remain overseas.
“We will do everything to stop this. We will fight for Thailand,” said the opposition MP Suthep Thaugsuban, who led the march. Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon and former chairman of Manchester City, was ousted in a coup in 2006 and later sentenced to two years in prison following an investigation by a military-appointed graft body. He is considered the remote power behind the current Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, his sister.
Following an opposition boycott, the lower house unanimously backed a bill on Friday which would erase cases against Thaksin and return frozen assets worth 46 billion baht (£920m).
“It’s not right. He’s a bad guy, he’s cheating,” one protester, Peerasut Nilawat, a Bangkok restaurant owner, said. “He’s trying to come back and get out of trouble.”
The protests appeared to be spreading last night, as riot police were staged alongside barbed-wire cordons in areas around government buildings in central Bangkok.
Business owners demonstrated near Patpong, a tourist area and red-light district in the centre of the city, and there were large protests in the north-east and south of the country. Many threatened to head to the capital if the bill is pursued in parliament.
Whether or not the controversial amnesty ever becomes law, the bill appears to have angered many supporters of Thaksin, who is still a popular figure in Thailand following landslide election victories in 2001 and 2005.
Although the amnesty bill was at first designed to wipe a clean slate for lower-level figures involved in Thailand’s enduring political divide, ruling party MPs later changed the draft to include Thaksin and his main adversary Abhisit Vejjajiva, also a former prime minister.
Last week, Abhisit and Suthep, Monday’s protest leader, were charged with murder over their senior government roles during battles between the army and Thaksin supporters in Bangkok which left more than 90 people dead in 2010.
Discontent over the amnesty bill has extended to Thaksin’s son, Panthongtae Shinawatra, who used his Facebook page to comment last week that he wanted his father to return to Thailand but that he and his two sisters were against a blanket amnesty for the “murderers” of 2010.
In an interview in Singapore last week, he played down his desire to return to Thailand, assuring both supporters and adversaries that the amnesty bill was needed to “reset” the country after seven years of an enduring political divide which has left dozens killed and in prison.
Thaksin is considered a reformer against the opposition royalists in a country where criticism or even detailed discussion of 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej has resulted in lengthy prison terms in recent years.
“We [fighting politicians] will soon be gone,” Thaksin told the Thai-language daily Post Today two days before the amnesty bill passed through the lower house. “It is our children who will take our place and they will have to live in a bruised and battered country because of what we do, because we just want to win… to be in power and have no thought for our country.”
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