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6/12/2008

Soaring cost of living sparking protests across Thailand

Filed under: General,global islands,thailand — admin @ 8:32 am

Tens of thousands of heavy trucks are threatening to cause havoc in the Thai capital while fishermen have begun burning their boats in nationwide protests against soaring prices of fuel and other essentials, protesters said Thursday.

The government has until next Tuesday to subsidize fuel for truckers or face at least 100,000 vehicles rumbling into already traffic-clogged Bangkok, said Thongyoo Khongkhan, secretary-general of the Land Transport Federation of Thailand.

Also protesting or planning to stage demonstrations in this still heavily agricultural nation were garlic, cabbage and rice farmers, along with fishermen.

A government spokesman said money has been allocated to subsidize some costs of the farmers, fishermen and transport workers.

“The government is trying its best to reduce the immediate problem of the various groups of protesters,” said Natawut Saikau.

“The ongoing protests are not affecting the stability of the government but merely affecting the feelings of the people,” he said.

Prices for some commodities, such as rice, have risen because of greater worldwide demand, but farmers complain that these have been offset by skyrocketing inflation spurred by soaring fuel prices.

Thongyoo said a half-day strike Wednesday by truckers who parked their vehicles on highways across the country was only a prelude to next week’s possible push into Bangkok.

“Yesterday we merely showed our power by parking the trucks on the roads, but if the government fails to meet our demand, the federation has decided to make June 17 D-day when we will bring at least 100,000 trucks into Bangkok,” Thongyoo said.

The federation demands that the government sell diesel to them for 3 baht (9 U.S. cents) less than the market price per liter and allocate funds to the federation to convert truck engines from diesel to cheaper natural gas.

Finance Minister Suraphong Suebwonglee brushed aside the threat from truckers, saying authorities were working on a plan that would help reduce costs in the transport sector.

“I am not concerned about the truckers threat to strike because the government is seeking to subsidize the transport sectors as the whole,” Suraphong said without elaborating.

The president of the Fishing Federation of Thailand Mana Sripitak, meanwhile, said that more than half of the 50,000 fishing boats under its wing are being kept ashore because of the high cost of diesel.

Some fishermen have burned their boats in protest, he said, as the federation negotiated with the government for subsidies.

Farmers have in recent days staged protests in Bangkok asking the government to relieve their debts while rice and garlic farmers in northern Thailand have demonstrated against the high cost of living and the low prices for their crops.

Adding to the government’s woes is a threat by major labor unions to join up with pro-democracy demonstrations that have been occurring daily in Bangkok in recent weeks.

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