Bangkok — A much-feared confrontation over the controversial amnesty bill being pushed by the Pheu Thai-led government now appears more likely as Democrat Party MP Suthep Thaugsuban called for nationwide rallies against the bill.
House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont yesterday called for an urgent second reading of the bill tomorrow.
Sethep will hold a press conference today to call for the rallies, which will initially be held on Sethsiri road near Democrat Party headquarters in Bangkok, and outside city halls in the provinces.
Mr. Suthep said the rallies would remain within the law and not involve the use of weapons or the torching of buildings – a clear reference to the 2010 red shirt rallies which are widely believed to have involved both.
“We are not terrorists. We will not use weapons to fight anyone and we will not burn down buildings. We will stage sit-ins at provincial halls as an act of civil disobedience against the government,” he said.
Also, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his former deputy Suthep Thaugsuban struck back against the indictments delivered against them on Monday for ordering the 2010 military crackdown against the red shirt rallies.
They threatened to file a counter-lawsuit accusing the Attorney General of wrongfully deciding to indict and prosecute them.
They also said the purpose of the indictment was to pressure them into changing their minds and supporting the blanket amnesty bill, which they say is really aimed at benefiting fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and bringing him back to Thailand.
Both Abhisit and Suthep said they will not make a u-turn and support the blanket anmesty bill, even though it would benefit them, and will fight the charges all the way to the Supreme Court.
Abhisit voiced confidence that he and Suthep would clear their names because relevant legal provisions and factual evidence were in the defence’s favor.
He said a series of judicial rulings had already confirmed that the red shirt protests were illegal and not in accordance with peaceful assembly, the right of which is in the Constitution.
He added that the prosecutors neglected to address the issue of the armed “men in black”. The prosecution chose not to mention the armed men despite ongoing trials on terrorism charges involving rally organizers and red guards.
The “men in black” were reported and believed by many to be from paramilitary groups who used bullets and grenades against the government’s soldiers during the 2010 chaos in the streets, killing and injuring a number of them.
Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha also insisted he and his soldiers do not want a reprieve under the amnesty bill.
He was responding to reports the government is citing the army’s role in the 2010 crackdown on the red shirt protests to pressure the army into accepting an amnesty offer.
He said he had talked to his soldiers to hear their views and they insisted they do not want an amnesty, according to reports.
The army is not party to the political conflict and soldiers are officials of the state who perform their duties under the law, he said.
He said he is not a villain and will fight any charges in court.
Abhisit questioned the Department of Special Investigation’s (DSI’s) legal reasoning for taking up the case against him, and was suspicious of the timing of the indictment, which coincides with the House debate on amnesty, hinting that there was an ulterior motive to force the opposition to support the blanket amnesty, said reports.
Suthep said many saw the prosecution’s decision to indict them as a way to help them push the amnesty bill through.
If the government continues pushing for the bill’s passage in second and third readings, I will intensify the fight by putting my life at stake,” he said.
He said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra must order the Pheu Thai Party to withdraw the amnesty bill, saying she is in a position to head off any conflict and should stop skirting around the issue.
Mr. Suthep warned the Prime Minister that if she continues to put the interests of her elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra and her family before that of the nation’s, “you will end up without a country to live in”, according to a Thai media report.
Deputy House Speaker Visut Chainarun met with legislative guards in an effort to ensure peace and orderly conduct during the parliamentary debate on the amnesty bill.
He said he would try to reason with unruly lawmakers, but would not hesitate to remove them from the House chamber, said a report.
He emphasized that he would not tolerate disorderly conduct, because the image of the Thai parliament had degenerated to that of Taiwan’s.