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Amnesty anger set to explode

Suthep may call for mass rallies after Somsak's rush for 2nd reading

A MUCH-FEARED confrontation over the controversial amnesty bill being pushed by the Pheu Thai-led government appeared more likely yesterday, as Democrat Party MP Suthep Thaugsuban decided to call for rallies nationwide from tomorrow, a Democrat Party source said.

Suthep's decision was prompted by House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont's urgent call yesterday for a second reading of the bill tomorrow. Suthep, reportedly acting independently, will today hold a press conference to call the rallies. In Bangkok, the rally venue will initially be on Sethsiri road along Samsen Railway Station near Democrat Party’s headquarters, while provincial rallies will take place outside city halls.

The Pheu Thai Party yesterday resolved to vote for the revised version of the bill, which would grant amnesty to all - a condition opposed even by the government's closest ally, the red-shirt movement.

The House will tomorrow begin its debate on the second reading of the amnesty bill, Somsak said yesterday. "The legislative deliberation on amnesty will adhere to prescribed procedures as sanctioned by the Constitution," he said.

"The legislative deliberation on amnesty will adhere to prescribed procedures as sanctioned by the Constitution," he said.

Somsak said vetting of the bill was complete, so it was unavoidable that the second and third readings would be held.

Sooner or later the debate would have had to proceed, he said, defending his scheduling of the session for this week.

Reacting to the opposition's claim that the bill was a fiscal issue requiring prime ministerial endorsement ahead of the debate, Somsak said he was willing to convene all 35 House committees to rule on the issue.

He said opponents and proponents of amnesty had their respective views on whether the draft was designed to benefit former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

"In my view, amnesty is about restoring justice to all sides," Somsak said.

Amnesty could not be selectively granted, he said.

A Pheu Thai Party source said the government wanted to push for the amnesty bill's passage as soon as possible.

The speedy scheduling of the debate was meant to give as little opportunity as possible for opposition lawmakers to air dissenting opinions.

Coalition lawmakers plan to flex their majority muscle to vote for a speedy ending to the debate on each draft provision, automatically silencing the opposition.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is expected to be absent, citing a prior engagement to chair a mobile Cabinet meeting in Lop Buri.

The government will distance itself from the amnesty issue by employing the same strategy of executive-legislative separation of powers cited during the charter-change debate.

Deputy House Speaker Visut Chainarun held a meeting with legislative guards as part of the advanced preparations to ensure peace and orderly conduct during the debate.

Visut said he would try to reason with unruly lawmakers, although he would not hesitate to remove them from the House chamber.

He said he would not tolerate disorderly conduct, because the image of the Thai legislature had degenerated to that of Taiwan's.

Chart Thai Pattana Party chief adviser Banharn Silapa-archa said he was concerned that protesters might take to the streets after the bill's final passage.

Defending the bill, Banharn said amnesty would not apply to those found guilty of graft violations.

Protest organiser Uthai Yodmanee said protesters would remain at the Urupong intersection during the second and third readings of the bill.

The decision on whether to intensify the protests would be made only after the bill's final passage, he said.

Red-shirt movement chairwoman Thida Thavornseth posted a Facebook message opposing blanket amnesty.

Red shirts and almost 100 per cent of academics were against blanket absolution, she said, urging the ruling Pheu Thai Party to rethink its strategy.

"When you cannot yet defeat your political enemies, you should hope to preserve the hearty support of your allies," she said, asking whether amnesty is worth antagonising the reds over.

Thida's husband, MP Weng Tojirakarn, said he would abstain rather than cast his vote on amnesty.

Weng said he was against the amnesty but could not side with the Democrats.

He said all red leaders like Jatuporn Promphan, Nattawut Saikua and Kokaew Pikulthong were opposed to absolving political overseers involved in the crackdown on the 2010 political mayhem.

In the another development, the opposition appears bent on using delaying tactics during the second reading of the controversial amnesty bill, chief opposition whip Jurin Laksanawisit indicated yesterday.

Jurin said Democrat MPs have submitted 163 motions to seek changes to the amnesty bill, but their proposals were rejected during the vetting.

As a result, the Democrat MPs would reserve their right to debate the motions during the second reading, Jurin said.

Jurin quickly added that the debate would not be a delaying tactic.

"The Parliament president should allow them to debate all the motions. It's not a filibuster, but MPs have a duty to fight against the amnesty law," he said

He also said the opposition whip believed the ruling Pheu Thai Party would flex its majority muscle to try to push for speedy passage of the bill during the second reading because the government wanted to preempt mass rallies.

Meanwhile, the rubber farmers' protest in the South appears to be related to the anti-government protesters, National Security Council secretary-general Paradorn Pattanatabut said yesterday.

In a report about the rallies to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, he said security agencies felt the protests were related. He added that demonstrators at both rallies could come together to protest against the government's amnesty bill as well as a possible negative ruling by the International Court of Justice on the Preah Vihear Temple dispute on November 11.

"Right now we can see an obvious plan with a specific date and time already set. If the amnesty bill gets through and the Preah Vihear verdict is negative, there will be an immediate movement by the protesters. Now that they have given us a signal, it's imperative we keep our eye on them," Paradorn said.




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