THAILAND

Thailand

Yingluck Shinawatra fears violence at Bangkok rally

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 August, 2013, 5:47pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 August, 2013, 2:32am

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday warned that violence could erupt during planned anti-government protests in Bangkok this weekend, following unrest at rallies in the capital over recent years.

The self-styled "People's Army" - a coalition of ultra-royalist groups who loathe the Puea Thai ruling party and its exiled figurehead Thaksin Shinawatra - has vowed to protest in Bangkok today, possibly for several days.

It is targeting a government-backed bill, due to enter parliament on Wednesday, which proposes an amnesty for those involved in several bouts of political violence in Thailand since a 2006 coup toppled Thaksin.

The government has already invoked a special security law to control the protests, and more than 1,600 police were deployed yesterday to protect key government buildings, with thousands more on standby.

"As Prime Minister and a Thai citizen I worry that the rally could lead to violence," Yingluck said in a weekly television broadcast.

In a direct appeal to her opponents and pro-government groups such as the powerful "Red Shirt" street movement, Yingluck called for talks to defuse festering political tensions.

"Although there is only a one per cent chance of success, I want the conflict to end in this generation," she said.

Thailand has been scored by political divisions that have often spilled into violence since the overthrow of Thaksin, a deeply divisive figure who lives in self-exile but still draws loyalty among the kingdom's rural poor.

The contentious amnesty bill would scrap charges against protesters involved in incidents from the September 2006 coup until May 2012 - barring the leaders.

If passed, its opponents fear Yingluck's government will manipulate the bill to grant her brother Thaksin an amnesty, paving the way for his return by waiving his two-year jail sentence on corruption charges.

"Our goal is to overthrow the Thaksin regime - which is the rule by Thaksin for Thaksin, and to replace it with the rule by the people for the people," said People's Army spokesman Thaikorn Polsuwan.

"We come to demonstrate peacefully, unarmed and under the constitution," he added.

On its Facebook page the People's Army said the rally would start this afternoon at a park in the city's commercial centre.

Protesters yesterday erected tents outside Lumphini Park, according to Police Major General Piya Uthayo, who said the security law did not extend to the zone. "Protesters will trickle in and are expected to reach 4-5,000 [over yesterday]," he added.

Police have said they were authorised to use water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets if violence erupted.

An attempt to introduce an amnesty bill into parliament was aborted last year after "Yellow Shirts" - who support the opposition Democrat Party - rallied outside the legislature, evoking memories of their staunch street opposition to Thaksin in 2006.

Two months of protests in 2010 by Red Shirt supporters of Thaksin sparked a military crackdown that left about 90 dead and 1,900 wounded in Bangkok.