Thai PM seeks to calm tension, says will accept Senate decision on amnesty bill

Reuters

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

BANGKOK, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Thai Prime Minister YingluckShinawatra sought to defuse rising tension in Bangkok onTuesday, saying she would accept any Senate decision on apolitical amnesty bill that could see the return of herconvicted billionaire brother and former premier.

The bill, which critics say is a thinly veiled attempt towhitewash the crimes of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrownin a 2006 military coup, sailed through Thailand's lower houseof parliament last week, provoking widespread public outrage,and is set to be debated in the Senate on Monday.

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Bangkoksince Friday in protest at the bill and more than 1,500 were onthe streets again on Tuesday, threatening to disrupt months ofrelative calm in a country scarred by bloody unrest in 2010.

"My government will strive to serve the nation's interests.Regardless of the outcome of the Senate's decision...I willaccept the result for the sake of reconciliation," a sombreYingluck said in a televised speech.

Her brother is one of Thailand's most polarising figures.Without a pardon or amnesty, Thaksin would have to serve prisontime if he returns to Thailand after being found guilty inabsentia in 2008 of corruption.

More than 15,000 protesters, led by the opposition DemocratParty, seized the city's Democracy Monument area on Monday - asite that has played host to some of the worst rioting inThailand over the years. Many wore black to mourn the death ofdemocracy and spoke with anger against a bill they say condonescorruption and violence.

The amnesty bill, if it comes into law, would also whitewashcharges against Thaksin's enemies, including former premierAbhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban, who werecharged with murder for ordering a military crackdown onpro-Thaksin protesters in 2010.

"The risk of confrontation is on an upward trajectory asfrustrations build," said Christian Lewis, a Southeast Asiaspecialist at political risk consultants Eurasia Group.

Yingluck called on all sides to unite and bring the countryforward.

"It is time for Thais to choose a path that brings aboutunity without bias and emotion," she said.

Leaders of the protest movements in Bangkok said the speechwas heavily nuanced, with some saying it signalled she wouldback down. Others said her government would push on with itssupport for the amnesty.

"Yingluck's words aroused suspicion as to her trueintentions and will not change our stance. We will watch andobserve what happens next," said former deputy prime ministerSuthep.

Nikom Wairatpanich, a leading senator, vowed to shoot downthe draft law next week.

"It should be dropped in order to ease mounting politicaltension and help the country to move forward," he said.

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