BANGKOK - Several thousand Thai anti-government protesters gathered in Bangkok on Saturday after lawmakers approved a controversial amnesty that could allow fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return.
Opponents say the legislation, which was passed by the lower house on Friday but still needs the approval of the Senate, would "whitewash" past abuses, including the killing of unarmed protesters.
Some 3,000 protesters had joined the rally held by the opposition Democrat Party by early Saturday evening, police said, with attendance expected to swell as the weekend goes on.
Demonstrators chanting "Government get out!" and waving flags gathered for a third night in the Thai capital as political tensions flared in the turbulent kingdom.
"People doing wrong and then issuing laws to pardon themselves - it's impossible. It makes Thai law meaningless," said 42-year-old protester Anong Niamtiang, who had driven to Bangkok from central Supanburi province with friends to take part Saturday.
Thaksin, who was toppled in a military coup in 2006, remains a hugely divisive figure in Thailand. His younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra is now prime minister.
An attempt by Thaksin to return to Thailand could inflame tensions in a country with a history of political violence.
But there are doubts that the Democrats can mobilise the same number of supporters as during previous bouts of political unrest.
Supporters of the legislation say it will draw a line under years of turmoil, culminating in mass pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" protests in 2010 that left more than 90 people dead in a military crackdown.
But Human Rights Watch has said a blanket amnesty would allow officials and protest leaders to go unpunished for alleged abuses. As well as pardoning people involved in political protests since 2004, the amnesty would also cover those accused of crimes by organisations set up after the 2006 coup, according to a copy of the bill seen by AFP.
Thaksin, the former owner of Manchester City football club, lives in Dubai to avoid prison for a corruption conviction imposed in his absence in 2008. He contends that the jail term was politically motivated.
The bill is expected to be submitted to the non-partisan Senate on November 11.