Thai Govt warned of airport seizures

Rubber growers in the South are threatening to lay siege to important places like airports and provincial halls if the government fails to answer their demand for a higher price for their produce.Meanwhile, authorities have vowed strict law enforcement against protesters who cross the line.

"We will take legal action against protest leaders who are behind road and railway blockades," police spokesman Maj-General Piya Uthayo said yesterday.He added that authorities would most certainly not allow anybody to block the entrance of airports.

"If the protest spirals into airport seizures, we will invoke Article 135/1 of the Criminal Code. The maximum punishment under this clause is death," he warned.

Piya said that in the face of threats from rubber farmers, police were now keeping a close eye on Surat Thani, Krabi and Trang airports.

"We are working with the Royal Thai Air Force in protecting these facilities," he said.

As of press time, about 2,000 farmers had gathered and were blocking a road about 500 metres from Surat Thani Airport. However, passengers were still able to get to the airport using another road.

Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnog, meanwhile, has called on the protesters to talk to the government, adding that even though the authorities could not increase the rubber price significantly, it would help by reducing their costs.

"The Cabinet approved cost-lowering measures on Tuesday," he said.

He also warned the protesters against seizing the airports, saying that relevant authorities might need to use force if the demonstrators go too far.

"We can't allow any airport seizures," he said.

Getting ready for the worst

About 200 police officers were deployed at Surat Thani Airport to ensure immediate response if protesting farmers decided to raid the airport's compound.

Manoon Upala, a protest leader in Surat Thani, said he would wait to hear what the National Rubber Policy Committee says today before planning his next move.

"If there's no satisfactory response, I will coordinate with other protest leaders to seize provincial halls in various provinces, and then we will negotiate with the government from these halls," he said.

In Nakhon Si Thammarat, rubber growers have blocked three intersections, while another major road was being blocked in Trang.

In Rayong, some 100 farmers blocked the road leading to the provincial hall yesterday but dispersed hours later.

Settha Pitudecha, a protest leader in Rayong, said the protest in his province had been brought to an end after farmers learned that their peers in Surat Thani had already submitted similar demands to the government.

"We share the same stance," he said, adding that Rayong-based rubber growers would hit the streets again if the government did not offer satisfactory assistance.

Over the past two years, the price of rubber has plunged drastically.

Initially, rubber growers in other regions also planned to stage massive protests this week but called it off after the government promised to lower their production costs.

Meanwhile, National Police Commissioner General Adul Saengsingkaew has instructed police in affected provinces to press charges against protesters who block traffic, hurls stones or attack officials.