Antigovernment protests kick off amid tight security in Bangkok

Thousands of protesters kicked off an antigovernment rally in Bangkok on Sunday amid tight security, protesting against the ruling Puea Thai party and its exiled figurehead Thaksin Shinawatra, who might be able to return home without facing punishment under a new bill due to be discussed in parliament.

Several ultra-royalist groups gathered in Lumpini Park in central Bangkok, vowing to topple the government led by Thaksin's sister Yingluck, whose private residence is currently under tight security.

In anticipation of protests, the government on Wednesday decided to impose the Internal Security Act -- a security law implemented in 2008 to control demonstrators -- in three Bangkok districts over 10 days from Aug. 1 to tighten security around the parliament compound during the parliamentary session.

The move led protest organizers to stage the demonstration in Lumpini Park, an area not affected by the ISA.

Antigovernment groups had called for mass demonstrations across the capital, following the announcement that the amnesty bill proposed by the ruling party would be discussed.

Under the controversial draft bill, people who joined political rallies from 2006 to 2011 and committed crimes in the course of the protests will be pardoned, saying those people exercised their democratic rights.

Antigovernment groups and the main opposition party have, however, criticized the draft, saying it would protect officials, including Thaksin, who ordered crackdowns on protesters.

Thaksin, the ousted prime minister who has been accused of corruption and abuse of power, is said to be attempting a comeback with the help of his sister.

Thaksin on Sunday expressed concern about the rally on his Twitter account, accusing the protest leaders and the Democrat Party of acting in their own interest.

"Don't say you (the Democrat Party) want to root out the Thaksin regime, simply say you want to replace the government," he said.

In a bid to ease tensions, Yingluck on Friday announced that the government would set up a mechanism to settle political conflict by inviting representatives from civic groups and political parties to discuss pressing issues.

Some groups, including the opposition Democrat Party, said they would only join talks if the government was ready to remove the amnesty bill from the agenda, which is set to be discussed in parliament on Aug. 7.

In a televised speech, Yingluck also voiced concern about a possible coup, saying, "It is regrettable that some groups want to create a street movement. It is undemocratic because they use provocative ways, they even call for a coup."

An army spokesman on Sunday, however, dismissed rumors of a coup, saying it is not possible for the army to stage a coup as "soldiers have many duties to do, especially taking care of the king and queen in Hua Hin."

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit on Thursday were discharged from a Bangkok hospital and are now recovering at a royal palace located at the popular beach resort of Hua Hin in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, around 150 kilometers south of Bangkok.