Opposition to amnesty bill escalates

Opposition to amnesty bill escalates

At least 30,000 protesters against the amnesty bill converged on Bangkok streets on Monday to demand the draft legislation pushed through the House by the Pheu Thai Party be immediately dropped.

Anti-amnesty bill protesters join forces at Uruphong intersection on Monday morning. Video by Thiti Wannamontha

Attention was on the City Pillar Shrine, near Sanam Luang, and on Silom where people came out to air their feelings on the issue.

The Democrat Party led about 20,000 supporters in a march from Samsen railway station to Uruphong intersection before moving on to the Oct 14 Memorial at Khok Wua intersection and reached their destination at the City Pillar Shrine opposite the Grand Palace and Sanam Luang.

Democrat heavyweight Suthep Thaugsuban was on stage before the planned kick-off at 10am, telling the demonstrators that they were sending a message to the international community that they will fight peacefully and with discipline and will not cause any damage to the public. The march began about 10.30am.

In Silom, about 10,000 members of the Businessmen for Democracy Club and the Green Silom Business Group led by Somkiat Homla-or gathered near the Sala Daeng BTS train station to show their determination to promote a clean democracy and protect the royal institution. They fully occupied Silom road, most of them  wearing a yellow headband with the message: "We love the King."

They blew whistles at 12.34pm for one minute in a show of defiance against those "who cheat the nation".

The amended amnesty bill is expected to be tabled for debate by senators on Friday at the earliest, or Nov 11 at the latest, after it was passed by the House at 4.25am Friday after the main opposition  party, the Democrats, walked out in protest.

"I want to see the faces of senators who support this bill,'' senator Prasarn Marukpitak told the cheering crowds in Silom. The bill ''robbed'' and ''raped'' the country, said Mr Prasarn, who expected it to be put before the upper house on Nov 11.

The pressure is on the Senate amid growing calls from protesters, academics and the public to reject the legislation and instead take the original version of the bill for consideration.

It was altered and approved by the House of Representatives to give a blanket amnesty for all involved in political activities from 2004 through to the violent protests of April-May 2010, including those who ordered violent actions and corrupt politicians, 

Senate Speaker Nikom Wairachpanich insisted that senators are duty-bound to take up the bill for deliberation after it has been sent from the House. The Senate could not drop it unless it is rejected in the first reading in the upper house, which would force the return of the bill to the House of Representatives.

Pheu Thai leader Charupong Ruangsuwan said the party's position remained unchanged and it wanted the blanket amnesty. It was up to the Senate to make the decision.

Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, vice-rector of Thammasat University, urged Pheu Thai to step back from the move, saying that the party could still change its position if the bill is scrutinised by a joint committee vetting the draft legislation.

Army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha urged Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to hold talks with all agencies to find a solution to the political impasse amid growing pressure against a blanket amnesty.

Gen Prayuth said the army did not want to be forced to come out to solve the problem. Even the army could not solve the crisis, he added.

At Thammasat University, more than 700 lecturers, students and staff issued a statement reaffirming the university's stand against the amnesty bill.

The statement was read by Somkit Lertpaitoon, the university rector, in the presence of the chairman of the faculty council and leaders of the students organisation and council, calling for the Senate to rejected the bill.

The university has not resolved whether to join the Democrat-led rally at Samsen railway station, but will leave it to individuals to freely make their own decision.

The university may stage a panel discussion on the bill and gather up to one million signatures against it, Mr Somkit said.

Meanwhile, the Council of University Presidents of Thailand comprising 14 universities also issued a statement opposing the bill, saying that  if passed into law it would set a wrong standard in Thai society. 

It would cause the people to believe that corruption is not a serious matter because those who commit it would eventually be absolved of wrongdoing by an amnesty.

The statement, issued today, was signed by the rectors of Thammasat, Srinakarinwirot University, Walailak, Suranaree University of Technology, the National Institute of Development Administration, Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, Khon Kaen University, Chiang Mai University, King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi, Nakhon Phanom University, Maha Sarakham University, Mae Jo University, Silpakorn University and Prince of Songkla University.

Chulalongkorn University also opposed the amended bill.

Former People's Alliance for Democracy leader Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang welcomed the moves by the acdamics and other groups coming out on Monday.

''They have the same mission in doing this, to protect the monarchy,'' he said.

Metropolitan Police Bureau chief Pol Lt Gen Kammronwit Thoopkrachang said about 6,600 police  were deployed at the rally sites in Samsen and Uruphong to ensure security and he was confident that they would be sufficient to handle the situation.

The protest march leaders said earlier it would be peaceful and well disciplined.

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