Thai Senate to reject controversial amnesty bill, says speaker


By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

BANGKOK, Nov 6 (Reuters) - The Thai Senate will reject anamnesty bill critics say is aimed at bringing back convictedformer premier Thaksin Shinawatra from exile, the Senate Speakersaid on Wednesday, a move that could defuse rising tension onthe streets of Bangkok.

The bill is aimed at whitewashing crimes committed by allleaders involved in political unrest since 2004 and is backed bythe ruling Puea Thai Party of Prime Minister YingluckShinawatra, Thaksin's sister.

"I reject this bill and will send it back to the lowerhouse. We will not accept this amnesty and the Senate majorityagrees with me," Senate Speaker Nikom Wairatpanij told Reuters.

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Bangkoksince Friday in protest at the bill, threatening to disruptmonths of calm in a country scarred by bloody unrest in 2010.

More than 5,000 students at Bangkok's prestigiousChulalongkorn University marched through the capital in protestagainst the bill on Tuesday as public outrage gathered momentum.

The bill will be debated in the Senate on Monday when itwill need support from at least 76 of the 150 senators to pass.

Critics say the bill is designed to allow Thaksin to returnto Thailand without serving jail time after being found guiltyin absentia in 2008 of corruption.

Nikom has worked for governments backed by Thaksin in thepast and is widely thought to be supportive of the Puea Thai-ledadministration of his sister Yingluck.

Rights groups say the amnesty would absolve anyone accusedof crimes connected to political violence, waive punishment foroffenders and perpetuate a cycle of violence and culture ofimpunity.

In her first official remarks since the draft bill passedThailand's lower house last week, Yingluck said on Tuesday shewould leave the bill's fate in the hands of senators.

Some analysts read her remarks as a sign of retreat afterThaksin, who is widely believed to be pulling the strings ofgovernment from abroad, misjudged the political temperature.

"This is a sure signal that Thaksin wants to reverse andback out. Yingluck chose to act quickly and sent a strongmessage to the Senate before her party's image is left intatters," Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, a political analyst atChulalongkorn University, told Reuters.

Opposition leaders heading the protests in Bangkok havevowed to continue their occupation of the city's DemocracyMonument area until the bill is thrown out.

"We cannot trust the government and their words until thislaw is withdrawn from parliament. We will stay until thathappens," former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of theopposition Democrat Party, said in a speech to protesters atDemocracy Monument.

If it becomes law, the amnesty would also whitewash chargesagainst Thaksin's enemies, including Abhisit and his deputy,Suthep Thaugsuban, who were charged with murder for ordering amilitary crackdown on pro-Thaksin protesters in 2010. About 90people were killed in the violence.

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