BANGKOK: Around 2,000 Thai anti-government demonstrators converged near parliament on Wednesday in an opposition-led rally against a controversial bill offering amnesty for political violence in the divided nation.
Hundreds of riot police carrying shields and batons barricaded the approaches to the legislature with concrete blocks and barbed wire to stop demonstrators reaching the building in the historic area of Bangkok.
The government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been braced for several days for the rally.
The demonstration raised fears of fresh unrest in the politically turbulent country as parliament begins to debate the amnesty proposals on Wednesday afternoon.
Opposition Democrat lawmakers, including the former prime minister and current party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, led supporters to the barricades some 200 meters from the legislature gates.
After a standoff police said they would allow only lawmakers through to parliament, prompting a plea from Democrat leaders for the protesters to disperse.
But an Agence France-Presse reporter at the scene said people remained in the area, with some 50 of them trying to push through the blockade.
Before entering parliament Abhisit praised the marchers’ resolve but urged them to stand down.
“We cannot rush this fight which will be long . . . so we must be prudent,” he said.
The former premier also accused the government of attempting to “whitewash” human rights abuses by backing the amnesty bill.
The proposed amnesty would scrap charges against those involved in political unrest between the time of the military coup that toppled then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in September 2006 until May 2012. Leaders would be excluded.
Anti-government factions fear it will be manipulated by the ruling Puea Thai government to waive convictions against Thaksin, who is Yingluck’s brother.
“I came here for justice. I don’t want an illegitimate bill,” said 55-year-old protester Prapas Sunantapreeda.
Thailand has been driven by political tensions since the overthrow of Thaksin, who lives abroad but still attracts the loyalty of the kingdom’s poor, rural working class.