BANGKOK - Thailand's embattled prime minister appealed Thursday for an end to escalating street protests against a contentious political amnesty, warning that the unrest would scare off foreign investors and tourists.
Thousands of demonstrators have turned out daily in Bangkok since the lower house of parliament last Friday passed a bill which could allow fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to return.
"I want protesters to end the rally. My government was born from elections so we respect the will of the people," Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's younger sister, said in a televised address.
"Protests affect the economy and hurt foreign investor confidence, and tourists will not dare to come," she added.
Thousands of police were mobilised in the capital on Thursday as protesters marched towards Government House.
Demonstrators were blocked by barbed wire barricades and riot police before reaching the seat of government.
"There are 4,000-5,000 police to secure key government facilities. All measures we use will be in accordance with the law," National Police Chief Adul Saengsingkaew told reporters.
"We will only use tear gas if protesters trespass into high security areas," he added.
"I am confident that everything is under control."
The ongoing rallies come despite signs that the government is stepping back from the amnesty.
The ruling Puea Thai party said Wednesday that it would not seek to force through the amnesty without approval by the upper house, whose speaker has predicted that the bill will be rejected by senators.
It has also pledged to withdraw other bills related to a possible amnesty.
"We can solve it through negotiations. I don't want to see a drawn-out rally because the amnesty bills were all cancelled and government will not resist the will of the people," Yingluck said.
The legislation has angered opponents of Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon who was toppled by royalist generals in 2006 and lives in Dubai to avoid prison for a corruption conviction that he contends was politically motivated.
Observers say Thaksin - who once described Yingluck as his "clone" and is widely considered the de facto leader of the ruling party - may have underestimated the depth of opposition to the amnesty.
Thaksin on Wednesday denied the bill was for his personal benefit, accusing political opponents of "distortions and lies".
The bill has also upset members of the pro-Thaksin "Red Shirts" protest movement who want justice for the killing of more than 90 civilians during a military crackdown on their rallies against the previous government in Bangkok in 2010.
Yingluck insisted her government would not try to break up the latest demos. "The government will not use force against protesters. I want to see peace in the country. We have deployed only police and have never ordered soldiers to take part," she said.