Protesting rubber farmers pushing for higher prices have vowed to cripple transport in the South by blocking all main roads in the region from Tuesday.
The southern farmers decided to intensify their protest after hearing that rubber growers in the North and Northeast had accepted the government's subsidy offer and called off their rallies.
Paving anewway: Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt shows reporters a road surface containing rubber in Don Muang yesterday. The government plans to pave roadswith excess rubber. APICHIT JINAKUL
A southern rubber farmers' leader, who asked not to be named, said the blockades will expand from Nakhon Si Thammarat to main roads in Ranong, Chumphon and Surat Thani provinces.
The move is aimed at completely cutting off road transport in the South.
The protesters' main blockade, at Ban Toon intersection on the Ban Toon-Cha-uat road and at Khuan Nong Hong intersection on the Asian Highway, entered its eighth day yesterday.
Southern train services are also affected as there is a railway crossing on the Ban Toon-Cha-uat road.
The protest will widen on Tuesday to Pathomporn intersection in Muang district of Chumphon province, the Co-op intersection in Phunphin district of Surat Thani, a location in Bang Saphan district of Prachuap Khiri Khan, and other undisclosed places, the farmers' leader said.
The Nakhon Si Thammarat provincial administrative organisation (PAO) yesterday announced its support for the protest. The PAO pledged to supply protesters with necessities and to arrange legal assistance if need be.
Nakhon Si Thammarat PAO vice-president Lamai Senkhwankaeo denied the protest was politically motivated.
"It is wrong for the government to accuse politicians of being behind it," he said.
Meanwhile, Terdsak Sermsri, head of a nationwide network of rubber farmers, and Sangwoen Thuadhoi, head of a network of eastern rubber farmers, said they agreed to call off their road blockade plan as the government had accepted some of the protesters' demands.
They mentioned a subsidy for rubber tree cultivation and the suspension of the rubber export tax to boost prices.
The farmers will wait about two weeks to see if the government meets other demands, including assistance for rubber farmers who have no legal ownership rights to their plantations.
Pol Maj Sa-ngiam Samranrat of the Secretariat of the Prime Minister yesterday asked the Crime Suppression Division to prosecute Democrat MPs for being terrorists and undermining national security with their participation in the rubber farmers' demonstration in the South.
The complaint was filed against Thaworn Senneam, Witthaya Kaewparadai, Nipit Intarasombat, Apichart Karikarn, Chinnaworn Boonyakiat and Thepthai Senapong.
Pol Maj Sa-ngiam said the MPs had joined the southern protests, which have inconvenienced the general public and damaged the national economy. He said the MPs had made speeches which had provoked demonstrators to clash with police, and many officers were injured.
It was reported that police from Cha-uat station sought warrants for the arrest of 15 leaders of the protesting rubber farmers in Nakhon Si Thammarat including Democrat MPs Thaworn and Nipit.
Mr Witthaya said this was a threat to MPs performing their duties.
"No matter how many arrest warrants the government tries to issue against Democrat MPs, it cannot solve the plight of people because problems do not result from Democrat MPs but from a government that has ignored the problems of rubber farmers for two years," Mr Witthaya said.
The Board of the Rubber Replanting Aid yesterday resolved to suspend the collection of the levy on rubber exporters for four months to encourage the operators to buy more rubber from farmers in the hope that it will help increase prices.
Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Yukol Limlaemthong said the suspension on the collection of the levy, also known as cess, would start on Sept 9 and run until the end of the year.
Mr Yukol said rubber exporters normally are taxed 2 baht per kilogramme of exported rubber to contribute to the Rubber Replanting Aid Fund.
The levy suspension should enable the operators to better compete in rubber exports.
Mr Yukol said the government would also push for higher rubber prices by using its existing stock of 200,000 tonnes of rubber to build and upgrade roads.
The cabinet is likely to allocate 5,268 million baht to subsidise rubber farmers' planting costs in this latex collection season, he said.
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