Rallies against the amnesty bill are expected to escalate after a network of anti-Thaksin groups said it would join the ongoing demonstrations mainly at the Uruphong intersection in Bangkok.
A family takes a break from a rally at the Uruphong intersection on Friday. (Photo by Pawat Laopaisarntaksin)
The opposition Democrat Party, meanwhile, is expanding its own rally at the Samsen railway station while it plots its next moves in the campaign to overturn the bill.
The Pheu Thai-dominated House of Representatives passed the third reading of the blanket amnesty bill by a vote of 310-0 with four abstentions at 4am Friday after the Democrats walked out of the chamber in protest.
The bill will go to the Senate next week with a push from Senate Speaker Nikom Wairachpanich to table it for first reading by Nov 11 or even sooner. The Senate Committee on Senate Affairs is scheduled to meet on Wednesday to set the agenda for its session.
Meanwhile, the anti-Thaksin coalition comprising civic groups in all 77 provinces joined the State Enterprises Workers' Relations Confederation and the Dhamma Army to urge members to join two rallies in Uruphong and Lumphini Park.
The Dhamma Army has close links with People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) leader Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang. Its focus is on Uruphong where a rally led by the Network of Students and People for Reform of Thailand has been going on for two weeks. The People's Democratic Force to Overthrow Thaksinism (Pefot) has been camped out at the park.
The coalition and the other groups are reluctant to join the Democrats' rally because they don't want to be associated with an event organised by a political party.
Somkiat Pongpaibul, a coalition leader, said the network would reveal future moves after all of its members are assembled.
Uruphong has become a focus of concern amid speculation that police plan to break up the rally on Saturday to clear the area for traffic.
"We are worried about the attempt to crack down on the protesters to get back the area and urge people to go to Uruphong starting today (Friday)," said Suriyasai Katasila, the coalition leader.
Police and security forces are keeping a close watch on the coalition's members including those in other provinces, said Pol Maj Gen Piya Utayo, a spokesman for the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (Capo).
National Security Council secretary-general Lt Gen Paradorn Pattanabut said he also expected more protesters to emerge now that the House has passed the bill.
The Democrats have not completely ruled out the possibility of joining the protest at Uruphong if the rally there "has problems", said spokesman ML Apimongkol Sonakul.
The opposition party on Thursday night drew a crowd claimed to be 20,000 to the Samsen site, though other estimates put the number at between 8,000 and 10,000. In any case, more people were arriving on Friday and party organisers were expanding the site and arranging for more toilets and other facilities.
In parliament, Senate Speaker Nikhom said he would persuade other senators on the panel setting the agenda for the session to table the amnesty bill for deliberation, but he denied being ordered by the government to rush it.
"I will discuss in the committee whether it will be put on the agenda for Nov 8 or Nov 11 at the latest," he said.
After the first reading in the Senate, a committee scrutinising the bill will be formed to vet it before sending the bill back for the second and third readings.
The speaker said he favoured having the bill pass the Senate before parliament goes into recess on Nov 28. However, it could be left for the next session if senators could not complete the process in time.
The seven-section bill has stirred a public uproar as it will grant a blanket amnesty to all those involved in activities stemming from the 2006 coup and its aftermath, including convicted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The original bill, before changes made by a House committee, covered only protesters and excluded politicians, protest leaders and officers responsible for dealing with political unrest.
Even some members of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, normally major Pheu Thai supporters, oppose the bill. They say it would exonerate the military who killed red-shirt protesters in May 2010 as well as the Democrat politicians who gave the military their orders.
The bill faces opposition from the Democrats, Thaksin opponents and some business leaders on grounds that it will whitewash Thaksin and let those involved in corruption cases after the coup walk free.
Critics say the cases include people linked to Thaksin, some of which have already been finalised in court.
But Mr Nikhom argued that they could be overly concerned about the bill, as it is subject for vetting after passing the first reading by senators.
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the opposition party would wait until the bill is dealt with in the Senate before forwarding it to the Constitution Court. He said he oped that it would face fierce resistance from senators in the debate.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra reiterated her position that the bill is being handled by parliament. The government would not interfere with the work of lawmakers on the issue, she added.
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