MORE than 5000 protesters packed a Phuket park this afternoon to vent their disappointment at a government law that pardons the corrupt. Protesters appeared to come from a variety of political backgrounds. The road to Bangkok has been reopened.
PHUKET: Protesters were streaming to Bangkok today as Thailand faced a wave of political unrest that could threaten the country's tourism revenue.
The protest spreads to the holiday island of Phuket this afternoon with hundreds expected to gather in a park near the main administrative offices, Phuket Provincial Hall.
In another Thai southern province, Prachuapkhirikhan, protesters and police were already bickering over whether travellers should be allowed through a road block on Thailand's main north-south artery to join the growing Bangkok protest.
Anger mounted with Parliament passing an amnesty bill on October 31 - Halloween night - that forgives corrupt government officers and allows for the return of fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
His sister, present PM Yingluck Shinawatra, distanced herself from this week's vote but the swelling dissent will be perhaps the most severe test so far for her coalition government.
Peaceful antagonism has continued between the ''red'' government and ''yellow'' opposition since the finale to a long street protest in Bangkok in 2010 left scores dead, with responsibility yet to be apportioned.
At that time, the ''yellow'' Democrat Party was in power. Now in opposition, former Democrat Deputy PM Suthep Thaugsuban is leading the protest against the amnesty and says action on the streets will intensify from Monday.
As the amnesty law has attracted broader opposition than conventional ''red'' versus ''yellow,'' the outcome of any national confrontation remains uncertain.
Although the government's rationale for passing the law was a promise of ''harmony,'' their hopes appear to be unlikely to be realised, and certainly not immediately.
Already a previously non-aligned group of professors from Thammasat University in Bangkok have come out against the law.
The spectre of the return of Thaksin Shinawatra has been a backdrop to Thai politics since he became a fugitive, living in the style befitting a billionaire outside Thailand.
Such is his support and influence that the Economist reported that Thailand actually has two prime ministers - Yingluck and her brother. The two-year period in which she has been in power has been relatively settled by Thailand's standards, until now.
The prospect of a broad national conflict over the amnesty bill has triggered alarm in the tourism industry. It's worth remembering, however, that no tourists were killed or seriously injured in the 2010 protest.
Two years earlier, the ''yellow'' opposition invaded and occupied first Phuket airport, then Don Muang and Suvarnabhumi airports in Bangkok. The Phuket invasion was just a practice run for the Bangkok occupations.
With direct flights increasing in number, Phuket is now seen as separate to the major political ring of Bangkok and less likely to be affected. However, the island has only tourism as an industry and would probably feel the repercussions from any serious conflict.
Social networks were bubbling with Sunday's activities while television channels were bizarrely subdued about coverage of protests.
Phuket Governor Maitree Intrusud told protesters they were welcome to express their opinion peacefully at the Sanam Chai park opposite Phuket Provincial Hall in Phuket City.
In previous political political protests, demonstrators have avoided the tourist areas on Phuket's west coast and paraded through Phuket City to the administrative offices or the park.
With protests in Bangkok and other provinces underway, the Phuket demonstration is due to begin at 2pm.