Thai lawmakers discuss amnesty bill amid tight security

Thai lawmakers on Wednesday started discussing a controversial amnesty bill proposed by the ruling Pheu Thai Party amid tight security.

The discussion, which began in the afternoon, is expected to last until midnight.

In the morning, lawmakers of the opposition Democrat Party led about 1,000 supporters to the parliament and asked permission from police to enter the area near the parliament, but the request was rejected.

The Democrat Party leader, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, said that his party opposed the amnesty bill because it aims to help people who committed crimes during mass protests in 2010, when his party was in power. He said granting amnesty was not acceptable to him and his party, as well as to relatives of those killed during the mass protests.

"Why do we have to pardon those who committed crimes by using weapons against authorities, burning the city and committing violence? We don't care who they are, Thaksin or anyone, they do not deserve pardons," he said, referring to ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Abhisit reiterated that he and other members of his party who are accused of involvement in the 2010 incidents are ready to prove their innocence in court, and that the 2010 protesters should do the same.

Meanwhile, antigovernment protesters not affiliated with the Democrat Party decided not to march to the parliament, saying that they are worried about safety and that their number was not big enough to apply pressure on the authorities.

However, at least three protesters were arrested after some of them entered the restricted area near the parliament and tried to break the police line.

The Thai government last week 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.

Around 4,000 police have been deployed around the parliament to control the protesters.

Under the 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 were exercising their democratic rights.

Antigovernment groups and the main opposition party have, however, criticized the draft, saying it would protect the protest leaders, including Thaksin, whom they accuse of organizing the mass protests under the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). UDD protesters, who are Thaksin's supporters, were accused of committing violence against the authorities during Abhisit's government.

A total of 91 people, including soldiers, were killed during the violence from mass protests and crackdowns in Bangkok in 2010.