Thai govt refuses to budge in talks

Trailer trucks are moved by protesting rubber growers to block the Asia Highway in Nakhon Si Thammarat.

THAILAND - Government representatives and protesting farmers failed to agree yesterday on the subsidy for rubber prices.

The government side, led by Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnog and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong, remained firm about a price of Bt90 a kilogram of rubber while the rubber growers called for Bt100. The farmers' representatives later cut their requested price to Bt95 but the government officials turned down their demand.

The two sides met at the Twin Lotus Hotel in Nakhon Si Thammarat. Members of the government-appointed committee to solve the rubber price problem also were present during yesterday's talks.

The rubber growers also demanded that the government offer compensation after a protester was killed and many others injured during recent police crackdowns, according to Amnuay Yutitham, one of the rubber growers' representatives at yesterday's talks.

Government representatives were firm also on a subsidy of Bt1,260 for fertiliser cost for every rai of rubber plantations. However, the growers said such a measure would only go to owners of rubber plantations, and not small-time planters.

Thawat Boonfuang, the PM's deputy secretary general, said Bt90 a kilogram was the highest the government could go. And that amount would cause a big fiscal burden for the state, he said.

Amnuay, after consulting with other representatives, responded that both sides should meet "half way", demanding that the subsidised price should be Bt95.

After the latest round of talks failed, the rubber growers decided to hold another large rally on September 14.

Groups of rubber farmers were still protesting at many locations in southern provinces yesterday, blocking some sections of roads.

Royal Thai Police spokesman Maj-General Piya Uthayo said hundreds of protesters still blocked roads in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Trang in the South, plus Ubon Ratchathani in the Northeast yesterday.

He said 24 policemen were injured, two of them seriously, during the clash with protesters in Prachuap Khiri Khan, adding that three media cars were also burnt. Twelve protesters were arrested - eight of them men and four women, he said.

Police also had evidence that Capt Songklod Chuenchuphol, an outspoken member of the anti-government movement, was present during the turmoil in Prachuap, according to the police spokesman. He added that the investigators were considering getting a warrant to arrest him.

'Teargas not used'

The authorities yesterday rejected an allegation that they used teargas during a clash with protesting rubber growers on Thursday night in Prachuap Khiri Khan.

Pracha said he closely followed the situation and he insisted that police did not use teargas against the protesters. He questioned the credibility of photos of teargas use shown by an opposition MP.

However, protest leader Santad Dejkerd, who is a rubber grower in Prachuap Khiri Khan, said teargas was used during the police crackdown. He added that firecrackers were also thrown at the protesters.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday met representatives from the private sector at Government House to discuss the low price for rubber.

Yingluck called on the rubber growers to take part in talks with government representatives in a bid to resolve differences over the subsidy. "We do not want to see violence, which may bring negative impacts to businesses and tourism in the South," she said.

Federation of Thai Industries president Payungsak Chartsuthiphol said during the meeting with the PM he foresaw the price of rubber rising in the fourth quarter this year, when there would be higher demand for natural rubber.

Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday expressed concern over the protest by rubber farmers. He called on the government to "adapt its stance in order to better respond to the protesters' demand".