Rubber farmers listen to a speaker as they block the road during a protest in Surat Thani yesterday.
BANGKOK: Thousands of Thai rubber farmers protested in the country’s south yesterday, calling for help from the government in the face of slumping prices, in the latest challenge for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Police said about 13,000 people had joined several demonstrations on highways and outside government offices, mostly in rubber producing regions in southern Thailand, the opposition’s heartland.
Protest leaders estimated the turnout at several tens of thousands, although so far Bangkok and other popular tourist destinations have not been affected.
Thailand is the world’s top exporter of natural rubber and farmers say they have been hit hard by weak global markets.
The farmers have accused the government of ignoring their plight while spending billions of dollars on a rice price guarantee scheme seen as mainly benefiting ruling party supporters.
The government earlier rejected demands to guarantee a rubber price of 120 baht ($3.7) per kilo, about 50 percent higher than the current price on world markets.
Instead the cabinet yesterday approved an offer of 1,260 baht per rai (0.4 acres) of rubber plantation to help with production costs, along with funds to boost the efficiency of rubber processing.
While the authorities have expressed concern that the rubber protests could turn violent, so far they have remained largely peaceful. Police blamed the fatal shooting of a man at a rally on Sunday on a personal dispute.