Bangkok. Thai “Yellow” protesters blocked parliament on Friday, forcing a debate on disputed reconciliation plans to be shelved amid signs of rising tensions in the bitterly divided country.
Proposals aimed at healing the rifts that have seen Thailand shaken repeatedly by bloody civil unrest since a coup in 2006, have provoked fury among opposition MPs who fear they will open the door for the return of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Lawmakers were unable to enter the building as parliament was due to open, with around two thousand ultra-royalist, anti-Thaksin “Yellow Shirts” and their affiliates massing outside for a third day running.
“House speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont sent a message to MPs’ phones saying that the meeting will be postponed indefinitely until the situation is improving,” said Pormpong Nopparit, spokesman of the ruling party.
The Yellows had warned they would try to enter parliament in an effort to disrupt any vote on the bill — a threat that carries weight from a group that has helped topple three governments of Thaksin and his allies.
Agence France-Presse photographers said riot police were lining up around the compound, which was blocked off with cement barricades and barbed wire.
The protests have been called by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the Yellow’s official name, who are powerful players in Thailand’s color-coded politics.
Backed by the Bangkok-based elite they are arch-rivals of Thaksin’s “Red Shirts,” whose massive rallies against a previous government in 2010 ended in a bloody crackdown.
Four reconciliation proposals are up for debate, threatening to further polarize politics in the country that has become increasingly divided in the years since Thaksin was toppled by royalist generals.
Three of the potential bills include amnesties that some fear could be used by the government — led by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra — to usher back the divisive former premier, who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption and terrorism charges relating to violence in 2010.
Activity on the streets has been mirrored within parliament in recent days, with police stepping in to protect the house speaker on Thursday from bundles on paper thrown by opposition Democrat MPs angry at his attempt to schedule the debate for Friday.
The Democrats have been close to the Yellows in the past and came to power after 2008 rallies by the movement that culminated with the seizure of two Bangkok airports, stranding more than 300,000 travellers and causing crippling economic damage.