Thai PM calls for calm amid fresh protests

Plea comes after “yellow shirts” blocked parliament debate of bill that could mean return of ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

There were minor scuffles between policemen and yellow shirt supporters of the PAD outside parliament [Reuters]

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has appealed for calm as tension continued to mount over a controversial national reconciliation plan.

Shinawatra on Saturday warned the deeply divided kingdom faces a “cycle of violence” unless steps are taken towards reconciliation after years of civil unrest.

Proposals aimed at healing rifts that have seen Thailand rocked by bloody unrest since a 2006 coup have sparked fury among opposition MPs who fear they will open the door for Yingluck’s brother, ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, to return.

Anti-government protesters brought the country’s parliament to a standstill on Friday, surrounding the complex and forcing the speaker to postpone a debate on the bill critics say is aimed at allowing Thaksin to return from self-imposed exile.

The current government, elected last July, is led by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra [GALLO/GETTY]

The unity bill has prompted heated discussion and even scuffles in parliament, and about 2,500 protesters from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), known as the “yellow shirts”, blockaded the chamber on Friday.

The “yellow shirts” oppose the reconciliation bill because they say the government will use a blanket amnesty to bring back Thaksin, without him having to serve jail time for a graft conviction.

Yingluck said the process, which could result in an amnesty for people convicted or charged with offences related to the country’s political crisis, was a long way from completion and all sides should avoid confrontation.

She dismissed suggestions that protests by the group that contributed to the downfall of two governments led or backed by Thaksin – and was now threatening her own administration – would escalate.

Thais, she said, had grown tired of conflict.

“I am concerned but we have to be calmful. This situation, I think is a different situation than in the past because people [have] learnt that all the fighting and … the coup is not the good way and people have suffered for the last six, seven years.”

Pulling strings

Yingluck is still considered by many Thais as a proxy for Thaksin who remains a populist hero among working classes, even from exile in Dubai, where he lives to avoid a two-year prison sentence for abuse of power.

Thaksin is widely seen as pulling the strings
from his base in Dubai [GALLO/GETTY]

Yingluck said the reconciliation bill’s passage through parliament had been expedited because peace was a priority,
and the aim was not to enable Thaksin to have $1.5bn of his seized assets returned and his criminal record expunged.

Yingluck suggested it was unlikely Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup after months of “yellow shirt” street protests, would become a member of her ruling Puea Thai Party following Wednesday’s expiry of a five-year political ban.

Even though Thaksin and his closest allies are now free to resume their political careers, Yingluck said she had no
plans to vacate her position.

Thaksin fled into exile in August 2008, shortly before he was sentenced to a two-year jail term for a conflict of interest case levelled by graft-busters appointed by the military junta that toppled him.

He denies wrongdoing.

The “yellow shirts”, drawn broadly from the ranks of the urban middle class and supporters of the traditional royalist-military elite, staged mass rallies against Thaksin before he was ousted in the bloodless coup in September 2006.

Source: News Agencies