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Thailand protests mostly peaceful as government debates amnesty bill

Opposition led by Abhisit Vejjajiva fears controversial amnesty bill would clear a path for ousted ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return home without serving jail time for corruption.

Thai protests police amnesty law 08 07 2013Enlarge
Thai riot police stand guard near Parliament during an anti-government protest on August 7, 2013 in Bangkok. Opposition to Yingluck Shinawatra's government gathered to protest against an amnesty bill. (Paula Bronstein/AFP/Getty Images)

Violence feared by many in Bangkok never materialized on Wednesday despite thousands rallying in the Thai capital against an amnesty bill that would pardon political protesters from punishment.

Between 1,000 and 2,000 opposition supporters marched to Thailand’s Parliament buildings, only to disperse as they reached police barricades, opting to return home rather than breach the lines, Reuters reported.

The bill is controversial because opponents fear it would allow exiled prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return home without serving a two-year sentence for corruption.

He was out of the country when a military coup ousted him, the Associated Press said. A court sentenced him in absentia, and he hasn’t returned.

The amnesty bill has been introduced by the government now under his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

“It’s not about organizing a mob but about spreading the truth to the people, to recognize the dangers of this amnesty bill, that there are different hidden agendas,” opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said, according to Reuters.

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Only three protesters were arrested on Wednesday, Kyodo News International reported.

Thailand underwent years of turmoil beginning in 2006. Angry opposition protesters staged sit-ins in the prime minister’s office and Bangkok’s airport before security forces ushered them away.

The sometimes violent clashes killed 91 people, protesters and police, during 2010 demonstrations.

Areas of Bangkok are now under an Internal Security Act as lawmakers debate the bill. About 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, Kyodo reported.

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, the news agency said.

International human rights observers have also criticised the bill.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/thailand/130807/bangkok-thailand-protests-shinawatra-amnesty