Thai protester shot dead at rubber farmer rally

Thai protester shot dead at rubber farmer rally
A worker shoulders sheets of raw rubber sold to a middleman

BANGKOK - A Thai protester was shot dead and another injured at a rally in the country's south on Sunday, officials said, following demonstrations calling for higher rubber prices.

In a pre-dawn attack, shots were fired at a group of protesters acting as guards at a rally site in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, local governor Viroj Jiravarungsan told AFP.

One man, aged 29, died of his injuries in hospital, while a 25-year-old man was seriously wounded.

It was not known who carried out the attack, but Viroj said there was concern that the incident could be used to "escalate the protest".

Viroj said police had failed to access the crime scene to recover forensic evidence because a group of around 300 protesters had barred their entry.

"The government clearly ordered that there be no violence used against the protesters," he said.

Demonstrators, angry about a sharp fall in the price of rubber, have blocked a major road in Nakhon Sri Thammarat as part of protests that began on August 23.

They have called for farmers in other regions of the country to encircle the capital Bangkok with other transportation stoppages in a more widespread demonstration on September 3.

The government has rejected demands that it guarantee a rubber price of 120 baht ($3.7) per kilo, but has said it has successfully persuaded many in its heartland regions in the north and northeast not to participate.

Thailand has been rocked by several mass protests in recent years, with both allies of the current government - and its ousted figurehead Thaksin Shinawatra - and the opposition taking to the streets.

In 2010 two-month demonstrations by the pro-Thaksin "Red Shirts" drew 100,000 protesters at their peak before being crushed in a military crackdown under a previous government.

More than 90 people, mostly civilians, were killed during the demonstrations and nearly 1,900 were injured in Thailand's worst political bloodshed in decades.

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