Push for amnesty has ended: Thai PM

THAILAND - The embattled Pheu Thai government yesterday yielded further to the spreading public outrage over the bill for blanket amnesty by withdrawing all draft amnesty bills from the legislature, except the one to be debated by the Senate today.

The move came after many groups of people staged protests at different locations in Bangkok, some even moving into the area where the Internal Security Act (ISA) has been imposed by the Cabinet and some even calling on the government to "get out".

The Network of Students and People for Thailand's Reform, which yesterday moved their protest closer to Government House, now plan to campaign for the Yingluck government's ouster, according to group leader Uthai Yodmanee.

A number of people yesterday also called on the prime minister to dissolve the House of Representatives and call a new election to "return the power to the people". These included Ramkhamhaeng University rector Wuthisak Lapcharoensap and a number of senators.

Senate Speaker Nikom Wairajpanit brought forward a meeting of the upper house today, from next Monday, to discuss the amnesty bill passed last week by the House of Representatives.

A source from the group of 40 senators said yesterday that they would not attend the meeting today in order to deprive it of quorum.

Bangkok Senator Rossana Tositrakul said there was an attempt to undermine the protesters' legitimacy by rushing the Senate debate to approve the original amnesty bill proposed by Pheu Thai MP Worachai Hema. The original bill seeks amnesty for protesters who committed criminal offences during the recent political conflicts.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra affirmed yesterday that all draft bills related to amnesty have been withdrawn from the legislature. "I want to alleviate the people's concern - the amnesty bill has already been dropped and all amnesty-related drafts are withdrawn," she said.

The embattled premier has made statements on three successive days since Tuesday on the amnesty bill, aiming to pacify the anti-amnesty protesters.

She said her Pheu Thai Party had sought and received House approval to remove the draft legislation on political clemency. "The people should rest assured that the push for amnesty has ended," she said.

Yingluck said there was no truth to the allegation that the amnesty bill was designed to void corruption cases. She also dismissed concerns that her government would crack down on the protests.

The prime minister said she wanted to see the restoration of peace and a return to normalcy. Therefore, only police were deployed to keep the peace, she said.

There were no plans to deploy soldiers to control the crowds, she said, pledging not to use force to disperse the rallies. She called for an end to the street protests. "My government will not do anything contrary to the people's feelings," she said.

She urged her opponents to submit their demands and grievances to the government instead of protesting on the streets.

The House yesterday cast a 310-1 vote to drop six draft bills related to political clemency. The six include the reconciliation bill sponsored by Matubhum Party leader Sonthi Boonyaratglin.

In removing his draft, Sonthi said he wanted the political conflict to end. "The country will become extinct should divisiveness persist," he said, urging all sides to talk and forgive each other.

The remaining four bills were sponsored by Pheu Thai MPs.

Yesterday, thousands of Thammasat University lecturers, staff members and students marched from their Tha Phachan campus to the United Nations office on Rajdamnoen Road to show their opposition to the amnesty bill.

Surin Pitsuwan, former ASEAN secretary-general, also took part in the march.

At midday, a large group of people gathered near the Asoke intersection in a protest against the bill organised by the Business Club for Democracy. Another large group, organised by the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand, gathered at the Ratchaprasong intersection in the evening. The protesters whistled for a long period to show their opposition.

Meanwhile, Air Force commander-in-chief ACM Prajin Jantong yesterday commented that the government's retreat over the amnesty bill appeared to have reduced the political temperature. He suggested that a law should be written in a way that respects the legal principle and the public sentiment.