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Thai PM defends amnesty bill in face of protests

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Tuesday defended a controversial political amnesty bill that has sparked mass anti-government protests, urging the country to "forgive" after years of civil strife.

Opponents fear the legislation would allow fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra -- Yingluck's brother -- to return from self-imposed exile.

Yingluck said the amnesty was needed to reunite the country after years of turmoil culminating in a bloody crackdown by the previous government on pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" protests in 2010 that left dozens of civilians dead.

"Since this government took power it has focused on reconciliation," she said in a nationally televised address.

"An amnesty is not about forgetting our painful lessons but about learning so it does not happen again to our young generation," she said. "If people learn how to forgive, the country will move forward."

There have been daily demonstrations in Bangkok since parliament began debating the bill last week.

More than 10,000 protesters marched through the capital on Monday, seeking to raise pressure on Yingluck's government over the controversial bill. Small rallies were also held in several provincial towns.

The legislation has even angered some Red Shirts who want justice for the killing of more than 90 protesters on the streets of Bangkok in 2010.

Rights groups have warned the amnesty would "whitewash" past abuses.

Seven years after he was toppled by royalist generals in a bloodless coup, Thaksin remains a hugely divisive figure in Thailand.

The former telecoms tycoon lives in Dubai to avoid prison for a corruption conviction imposed in his absence in 2008 that he contends was politically motivated.

As well as pardoning people involved in political protests since 2004, the amnesty would cover those accused of crimes by organisations set up after the 2006 coup, such as Thaksin who was targeted by an anti-corruption panel.

The amnesty bill was passed by the lower house on Friday and is due to be debated in the Senate next week.

"I urge all senators to fully consider this bill on the grounds of reconciliation. Whatever the Senate decides -- if it rejects or amends it -- I believe MPs from the lower house will reasonably accept it in line with the parliamentary process," Yingluck said.

Even if the Senate rejects the bill, the lower house can pass the legislation and send it to the king for approval after a delay of 180 days.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131105/thai-pm-defends-amnesty-bill-face-protests