Thailand Tense as Government Debates Amnesty Bill

Security forces set up barricades outside parliament

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PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL / AFP / Getty Images

Thai opposition protesters wave national flags as they parade during rally in Bangkok on November 11, 2013.

Thai police ramped up security in central Bangkok on Monday as the Senate began deliberations on a bill drawing ire from both pro- and anti-government camps. The Amnesty Bill, proposed by the ruling Pheu Thai Party, would absolve Thais of convictions related to political violence dating as far back as 2004.On Monday, the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order deployed nearly 7,000 police to cordon off an area around the Parliament and the prime minister’s office, where protesters have camped out on the main road for about two kilometers. “They’re shouting and the crowd has whistles,” said Wei Xiangnan, a Chinese national who spoke to TIME by phone from his office on Ratchadamnoen Ave.  “The road is full of people. It’s very, very crowded.”

(MORE: Thailand’s Color War: Why Red Hates Yellow)

The Senate will hold its first reading of the legislation today, after failing to reach a quorum on Friday when a large group of anti-government senators boycotted the meeting. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is expected to speak after the Senate decision is announced, which could be as late as 10 p.m. local time.

Thailand’s Justice Minister said the bill is the best way to resolve the country’s ongoing political stand-off by wiping the slate clean, particularly for those involved the political violence of 2010. Anti-government protestors worry the legislation could allow Thailand’s exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra to dodge criminal charges and return to the country.  They are calling for the bill to be dropped completely.

The bill is also drawing criticism from supporters of the current government. They are campaigning against pardons for former officials and members of the military that they hold responsible for the deaths of their red-shirt comrades in 2010. More than 90 people died and at least 2,000 were injured when the military opened fire on red-shirt sympathizers that year.

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