MPs brawl in unity bill chaos

MPs brawl in unity bill chaos

House speaker faces impeachment petition

MPs scuffled in parliament Wednesday after House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont was accused of serving ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra's interests.

Chaos erupted in parliament Wednesday as opposition Democrat Party MPs protesting the reconciliation bill encircled House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont to demand that he leave the chamber.

The House of Representatives erupted into chaos when Mr Somsak cut short the opposition's protest and called for a vote to decide if reconciliation bills should be moved to the top of the agenda.

Democrat MP Thana Chirawinit approached Mr Somsak's bench and criticised him for serving Thaksin.

"Is there a Dubai stamp on the hammer [you're holding]? Are you serving someone? What is the rush about? We MPs serve the people and do our job. Who are you to block us?" he said, referring to Thaksin, who lives in self-exile in Dubai.

A group of Democrat MPs then joined him. Some went up to Mr Somsak's bench to demand that he relieve himself from duty. Pheu Thai MPs rushed to block the opposition as about 40 parliament police officers surrounded Mr Somsak.

The stand-off went on for 10 minutes before Mr Somsak called for a short recess and left the chamber under tight protection.

During the recess, scuffling broke out between female Democrat and Pheu Thai MPs.

Democrat MPs Rangsima Rodrassami and Kantawan Tantian tried to remove the House speaker's chair. Pheu Thai MPs Prengmanee Rengsomboonsuk and Khattiya Sawatdiphol blocked them.

Rumours spread that Ms Khattiya was slapped by Ms Rangsima, but both women denied that.

Tension eased when Wisut Chai-arun chaired the meeting after the recess. The meeting was adjourned without a vote. If the House agrees Thursday to move up the bills, their first reading is expected to be held on Tuesday.

Mr Somsak was the target of boos and jeers throughout the tense three-hour debate.

The Democrat Party will petition the Senate Thursday to seek Mr Somsak's impeachment.

Tension started when Democrat Jurin Laksanavisit questioned the status of the bills, which were marked as urgent. He was concerned that the bills could be classified as money-related, citing a possibility that seized assets worth 46 billion baht could be returned to Thaksin if his wrongdoings were later absolved.

"At least General Sonthi [Boonyaratglin], who proposed the bill, must be asked if assets will be returned to anyone," Mr Jurin said.

Mr Somsak ruled that the bills were of urgency and he had the power to make decisions on the issue. This triggered the chaotic scenes.

"This is not complicated at all. What Mr Speaker did will not be affected. The motion to shift it will not be either. You just need to complete the procedures first," opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said of the process in having the House verify the status of the unity bills. The House speaker, trying to restore order, asked MPs to show respect for each other.

Shouts and screams filled the chamber. An opposition member raised a written message in the chamber: "Stop the bogus reconciliation and No to whitewashing the cheats."

Government chief whip Udomdej Rattanasathien earlier said the government decided to have the bills moved up because it was in the public interest.

"If there is a law that can foster reconciliation, we should support it," he said.

He said the government whip was concerned about street protests against the bills but believed that differences could be sorted out when the bills are up for parliament scrutiny.

The uproar in the chamber overshadowed street rallies outside by the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the so-called multi-colour group to demand that the reconciliation bills be dropped. Police estimated about 5,000 people joined the rallies, which ended about 10pm and will resume Thursday.

PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul told the yellow shirts that the bills, which seek to annul court verdicts in political cases delivered after the 2006 coup, are an infringement on the monarchy's power.

"When there is a move to pass an amnesty law, they will see me. Annulling a court verdict is tantamount to infringing on the King's power," he said.

PAD leader Pibhop Dhongchai lashed out at Gen Sonthi for proposing the reconciliation bill and criticised it as Thaksin's attempt to seize judicial power.

Sathit Wongnongtoey, Democrat MP for Trang, said Mr Somsak had failed to act impartially as House speaker by trying to move the reconciliation bill up on the agenda without paying heed to the Democrats' protest.

The bill, he insisted, had to be stopped because it would deepen social conflict, which threatens to spill onto the streets.

Atthawit Suwannapakdi, Democrat MP for Bangkok, said if Mr Somsak wanted to have his way, the prime minister must give a written guarantee or the House committees must give a resolution that the bill was non-financial.

Queries surrounding the status of the bill must be settled by the Constitution Court, he said.

A video clip, uploaded to YouTube by tpdnet, shows lawmakers surrounding House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont on May 30, 2012.

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