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Over 300 Samui residents protesting the amnesty bill in front of the Samui District Office

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Over 300 Samui residents protesting the amnesty bill in front of the Samui District Office | Samui Times
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At 5pm on Sunday more than 300 Samui District residents gathered to oppose the amnesty bill in front of the Samui District Office.

The group, led by Mr. Somsak Phet-awut, criticized the government’s work and invited other local residents in Samuit District to join the rally. It is expected that the number of protesters will increase today. Police officers from the Samui Precinct have been deployed to ensure security.

Another group of demonstrators have already mobilized to the Surat Thani Provincial Hall to voice their opposition to the amnesty bill.

amnesty bill protest 1The government is facing growing anger among its own supporters as well as protests by the opposition over the far-reaching amnesty bill that could allow former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return to Thailand and have the corruption cases against him wiped clean.

The amnesty bill, proposed by Mr. Thaksin’s party, easily passed one house of the bicameral Parliament on Friday.

Mr. Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon, was ousted by the military in a September 2006 coup and later sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for abuse of power. He has lived abroad in self-imposed exile since 2008. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, now prime minister, and the proposed law offers a broad amnesty for actions and people related to the coup and its aftermath.

If passed, the law might also restore to Mr. Thaksin part of his fortune that a court seized in 2010 on the ground that the money had been illegally obtained through his political influence.

amnesty bill protest 2“There’s no other place in the world where this would happen,” Abhisit Vejjajiva, a former prime minister and the leader of the opposition Democrat Party, told thousands of protesters who gathered in Bangkok on Saturday night. “The government is saying you can commit corruption and it will not be considered an offense and you won’t be punished.”

After three years of relative stability and calm, the uproar over the amnesty bill threatens a return to the deadlock and turmoil that has plagued Thailand in the years since the 2006 coup.

Perhaps more significant than the campaign to derail the bill by Mr. Thaksin’s traditional foes, including the Democrat Party, is the strong criticism from across Thai society. Newspapers that were seen as sympathetic to Mr. Thaksin and the government have published strongly worded editorials against the bill, contributing to a near unanimity that is highly unusual in the country’s print media.

Members of the movement that helped propel Mr. Thaksin’s party back to power in the June 2011 elections have also heavily criticized the bill.

Many leading members of the so-called Red Shirt movement, who shut down parts of Bangkok in 2010 in the name of Mr. Thaksin and his policies, say they are stunned by the breadth of the amnesty law, especially proposals to pardon those who ordered the military crackdown against the Red Shirts.

amnesty bill protest 3The leader of a Red Shirt faction in Bangkok, Sombat Boonngamanong, said in a newspaper interview published Sunday that Mr. Thaksin’s party, Pheu Thai, was using this “chaotic moment” in Thai politics to include the corruption cases in the amnesty bill.

“I think this is such a shame,” Mr. Sombat said. “It’s unbelievable that Pheu Thai is so brazen to do this.”

Mr. Sombat said the amnesty bill was particularly hurtful to idealists who believed that Mr. Thaksin was a champion of democracy.

“We boarded a train bound for democracy station, but then we suddenly made a turn to Thaksin station,” he said. “It’s over.”

Mr. Sombat said he would help lead protests against the bill separate from the protest organized by the Democrat Party.

To become law, the amnesty bill still needs the approval of the Thai Senate and the signature of the king, and it must clear expected judicial challenges.

But even if it goes no further, the bill appears to have damaged Mr. Thaksin’s still formidable political machinery. Nuttawut Saikua, a Red Shirt leader and a member of Parliament from Mr. Thaksin’s party, said sentiment among Thaksin supporters was “cracking into pieces.”

Mr. Thaksin has defended the bill as a new start for the country. “We need to reset to zero and move forward,” he said in an interview in Singapore with Post Today, a Thai-language newspaper.

But in a measure of the anger over the amnesty bill, Mr. Thaksin’s son, Panthongtae Shinawatra, criticized the bill on Facebook last week. Mr. Panthongtae, who many believe is being groomed for a political career, said that he wanted his father to return “more than anything” but that he and his two sisters were opposed to a “blanket amnesty,” especially for the “murderers” of protesters in 2010.

In its current wording, the bill would clear Mr. Thaksin in a number of cases that were investigated by a committee appointed by the leaders of the 2006 coup. The cases include charges that Mr. Thaksin directed the government to provide loans to Myanmar for a deal that involved his telecommunications company.

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