Thousands of protesters mass outside Thai parliament
BANGKOK – Around 2,000 Thai opposition supporters converged near parliament Wednesday, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, to protest against a controversial amnesty bill for political violence in the divided nation.
Hundreds of riot police carrying shields and batons barricaded the way to the parliament with concrete blocks and barbed wire, to prevent demonstrators reaching the building in the historic area of Bangkok.
The government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been bracing for the rally for several days, raising worries over the potential for fresh unrest in the politically-turbulent country as parliament gears up to debate an amnesty bill on Wednesday afternoon.
Opposition Democrat lawmakers, including the former prime minister and current party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, led supporters to the barricades some 200 meters (yards) from the legislature gates in a tense stand-off with police over whether the rally would be let through.
An AFP reporter at the scene saw three water cannon trucks and several large police vans behind the police lines.
“Why does this government want a whitewash for those who have violated human rights?” Abhisit said to reporters as he marched.
The Democrat protestors are targeting a government-backed bill, which proposes an amnesty for those involved in political violence since the military coup that toppled divisive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra nearly seven years ago.
The bill would scrap charges against protesters involved in incidents from the September 2006 coup until May 2012 — barring the leaders.
But anti-government factions fear it will be manipulated by the ruling Peau Thai government to waive convictions against Thaksin.