Thai police wary of prolonged rally against amnesty bill

BANGKOK - Police on Thursday expressed concerns over the protests against a government-proposed law that would grant blanket amnesty to all those involved in political conflicts since the 2006 coup.

They expected between 20,000 and 30,000 people to gather at Bangkok's Samsen Railway Station in a street protest organised by the opposition Democrat Party. The protesters were expected to stay for a long rally, judging from the amount of food and preparations they have, said Pol Maj-General Piya Uthayo, spokesman for the government's Peacekeeping Operations Centre.

The House of Representatives on Thursday debated the amnesty bill in the second reading. The debate went smoothly until the discussion on the bill's name. Opposition MPs protested against an early closure of the debate, leading to tension and an exchange of words with government MPs.

By Thursday evening, some 8,000 protesters, mostly from Bangkok, had gathered at the Samsen protest site as per an estimate of the Special Branch police, Piya said. He said any violent incident at the site could lead to suspension of train services.

Train services at Samsen station continued as usual on Thursday, said Somchid Kijja, a public relations officer at the station. He dismissed an earlier report in the social media that trains would not stop at Samsen station.

National police chief General Adul Sangsingkaew said on Thursday that he was assessing the situation and would decide after three days whether to extend the Internal Security Act in three inner city districts of the capital, which had earlier been extended until the end of November.

He said at present about 40 companies, or more than 5,000 policemen, from the Metropolitan Police Bureau have been dispatched to keep law and order in Bangkok, with a focus on areas around Government House and Parliament.

As head of the centre, Adul on Thursday issued a nine-point order for all police units throughout the country to be on alert round the clock. Relevant units were instructed to follow the movements of the protesters in their areas of jurisdiction.

Police checkpoints were ordered to be set up along roads leading to Bangkok to "screen people and possible illicit objects".

The Metropolitan Police Bureau was instructed to set up a rapid response unit in case of emergency. The centre's order also told police to have measures for possible closure of transport, such as railway, port or airport facilities, possible seizure of provincial halls, as well as possible sabotage.

Meanwhile, local authorities in the southern provinces of Songkhla, Trang and Nakhon Si Thammarat on Thursday ordered increased security at their provincial halls as protesters were expected to gather there for a rally against the amnesty bill. In the Northeastern province of Khon Kaen, some 300 people gathered at the local City Pillar Shrine to protest against the amnesty law. Protest leader Thammarat Sa-ngiamsri said the protesters might later move to the Provincial Hall or a local police station.

In a related development, Green Politics Group leader Suriyasai Katasila said on Thursday it was critical to see whether the number of protesters at Samsen railway station would reach 100,000.

Suriyasai, who is also a key member of People's Assembly Reforming Thailand, said the assembly would meet today and decide on their political movement. "Whether we will join the Samsen rally will depend on the situation. If the rally escalates, we will have to discuss it," he said.

He added that he believed there would be more rallies in other areas, such as in Silom business district.