Police hope talks can end protest

Police have been directed to negotiate with disgruntled rubber and palm oil farmers to end their rally, which continues to block the southern highway, amid government suspicions the protest is politically motivated.

A rubber farmer takes a good look at the burned out vehicles blocking the highway at the protest site at Khuan Nong Hong in Cha-uat district, Nakhon Si Thammarat, on Tuesday. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

The protesters continued their renewed rally at Khuan Nong Hong intersection in Cha-uat district of Nakhon Si Thammarat for the fourth day on Tuesday, this time using wrecked police vehicles to again block Highway No. 41, the main road between the North and South.

Prime MInister Yingluck Shinawatra stressed the need for peaceful means to end the stand-off.

The prime minister refused to respond to questions whether the protest was politically driven by unnamed local and national politicians, saying only that, "The government does not want other problems to exacerbate the situation''.

National police chief Adul Saengsingkaew was in the southern province on Tuesday for talks with top provincial officials about how best to end the protest and blockade of the highway.

The protest area has been declared off-limits to outsiders until noon on Wednesday under a 24-hour extension of the 2007 Disaster Prevention Act announced by Nakhon Si Thammarat governor Viroj Jiwarangsan.

Police were ordered to stay about a kilometre away from the rally site to prevent another clash, after the violent scenes on Monday when tear gas was fired at the demonstrators and protesters retaliated with rocks, catapults and firebombs. About 70 police and a score of farmers were reported injured and about 10 police vehicles set ablaze or severely damaged.

"There are attempts to escalate the situation,'' PM's Office Minister Varathep Rattanakorn said, quoting the police chief's briefing of the cabinet.

Thawat Boonfueng, deputy secretary-general of the prime minister, Labour Minister Chalerm Yubamrung and Deputy Interior Minister Wisarn Techathirawat repated their claims the protest was political and the agenda was to destablise the government, and that local and national politicians were supporting it. Many of the protesters were not farmers, Pol Maj Gen Thawat said.

Pol Gen Adul said police would not forego their intention to go after 19 protesters facing arrest warrants and those responsible for the theft of police weapons during the clashes.

Key Democrat Party members have come out to strongly deny they have any links at all to the continuing protest rally.

Prime Minister Yingluck said the Internal Security Act will not be invoked to cope with the situation, despite the escalating tension. Ordinary law was adequate, she said.

Deputy Prime Ministers Kittiratt Na-Ranong and Yukol Limlaemthong had been instructed to consult with entrepreneurs about wider uses for rubber products to help solve the problem of low rubber prices in the long run.

Mr Kittiratt had been assigned to assess damage to the economy in the South as a consequence of the  continuing protest  and explore ways of coping with it.

The cabinet has agreed to pay rubber rubber farmers a 2,520 baht-per-rai subsidy, with the maximum of 25 rai per household.This is equivalent to about 90 baht per kilogramme of unsmoked rubber sheet, acording to the government.

While most new rubber farmers to the north have accepted this, angry farmers in Cha-uat, where farms are bigger and rubber farming traditional, continue to demand a guaranteed price of 120 baht for their sheet rubber.

Parik Panchuay, a coordinator of the rubber farmers in Cha-uat, admitted outsiders were involved with the protesters, but said the violence mainly stems from failure of the government to explains it measures to them,  and the decision to use force to disperse the demonstration on Monday.

The farmers at Khuan Nong Hong should receive a proper explanation of the government's measures, he told FM97 news programme.

"I also put the blame on the government for using force to clear the area on the morning of Sept 16,'' Mr Parik said.

The farmer leader urged the government to hold talks with the protesters, instead of being paranoid they just wanted to dismantle the cabinet.

More than 1,000 protesters were at the intersection on Monday. There were a lot fewer  on Tuesday morning, but numbers appeared to be rising later in the afternoon.

The situation at Khon Nong Hong on Tuesday was generally calm. Concrete pipes, tree branches and tables were still obstructing the intersection. Burned out vehicles were clearly in evidence.

Police set up checkpoints on Highway 41 to search vehicles entering the area and ensure dangerous objects were not taken to the protest site. They advised motorists to take alternative routes, using back roads,  and avoid the intersection.

Related search: rally, police, nakhon si thammarat, cha-uat, rubber, protest

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