Thai Protest Against Amnesty Law May Attract 10,000 in Bangkok

Thailand’s biggest opposition party said as many as 10,000 people will join a protest tomorrow against efforts to pass a law that it claims will benefit former leader Thaksin Shinawatra. Stocks fell to a three-week low.

Parliament’s lower house will begin the second of three debates tomorrow on a bill that would give amnesty to people convicted of crimes linked to political clashes since the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin. Protesters will gather at 6 p.m. local time in Bangkok, said Suthep Thaugsuban, a member of parliament for the opposition Democrat party.

The SET Index slid on concern the amnesty push may lead to a renewal of unrest that has killed more than 100 people since the coup. The government has said the law is needed to heal social divisions, while its opponents say it is designed to exonerate Thaksin as well as politicians who ordered a deadly crackdown on pro-Thaksin demonstrators in 2010.

“When they no longer listen to us in parliament, we need to use our right to protest to communicate directly with the public,” Democrat party Deputy Leader Korn Chatikavanij said today in a statement. “We will not resort to violent means, but will need the support of the public at large to pressure the government to reconsider this bill.”

The threat of renewed protests “worries investors, so they are getting out of the market now,” said Prapas Tonpibulsak, who helps manage about $5.5 billion as chief investment officer at Krungsri Asset Management Co. in Bangkok.

Stocks Slide

Thailand’s SET Index slumped 1.3 percent as of 3:45 p.m. in Bangkok, the largest decline among Asian stock benchmarks today. The SET has fallen 10 percent in the past six months, the worst performance among major global stock gauges.

Central Plaza Hotel Pcl slid 2.5 percent, Erawan Group Pcl fell 4 percent, Laguna Resorts & Hotel Pcl dropped 2.8 percent and Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok Pcl lost 1 percent on concern that political instability may reduce tourist arrivals.

Thailand’s Internal Security Act, which gives authorities greater power to control crowds and search for weapons, has been in force around parliament and Government House since Oct. 9. Previous demonstrations by groups opposed to government efforts to change the post-coup constitution have failed to attract widespread support.

A parliamentary committee expanded the scope of the draft amnesty law earlier this month to include people accused of crimes by organizations or groups established after the coup, as well as soldiers, protesters and government officials who oversaw a crackdown on demonstrations in 2010.

‘No Anchor’

The opposition has said the law will exonerate Thaksin, who fled a jail sentence stemming from graft charges filed by an army-appointed body after his ouster. Parties linked to Thaksin have won the past five elections on support from rural areas, including the 2011 vote that brought his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, to power.

“If we let Yingluck’s government and the Pheu Thai party continue using its majority to do bad things, the nation will have no anchor and will drown under this dictatorial government that aims only to benefit its family and friends,” the Democrat party’s Suthep said.

Suthep and Abhisit Vejjajiva, the opposition leader and former prime minister, face charges of authorizing soldiers to use live ammunition on pro-Thaksin demonstrators -- known as Red Shirts -- in 2010. They would also receive amnesty under the proposed law, something Abhisit has said he is opposed to.

Red Shirts

The legislation is also opposed by some members of the Red Shirts, who say soldiers and government officials should be punished for killing demonstrators in 2010. Red Shirts who oppose the amnesty law plan to hold a mass rally on Nov. 10, the Bangkok Post reported yesterday. Tomorrow’s rally may draw as many as 10,000 people, the newspaper reported today, citing Issara Somchai, a deputy leader of the Democrats.

The Democrat party “has come out to play street politics,” Suporn Atthawong, Yingluck’s deputy secretary-general, told reporters today. “Withdrawing the amnesty bill is not the government’s business, it’s up to the parliament. If you want to pressure anyone, you should pressure parliament, not the government.”

Authorities will set up checkpoints to prevent protesters from smuggling weapons into the rally site near Bangkok’s Samsen railway station, Suporn said. Abhisit’s government in 2010 blamed armed elements within the anti-government protest group for instigating violence that prompted the crackdown that killed more than 90 people.

“The government has no policy to disperse protesters or use war weapons to kill people,” Suporn said. “The prime minister will focus on negotiating.”

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