Unpaid rice farmers besiege Thai PM’s office

Demonstration separate to anti-government protests whaich are ongoing in Bangkok

Thai rice farmers face with army soldiers during their rally at a temporary office for the cabinet of caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Bangkok. Photograph: Narong Sangnak/EPA.

Thai rice farmers face with army soldiers during their rally at a temporary office for the cabinet of caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Bangkok. Photograph: Narong Sangnak/EPA.

Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 08:24

Hundreds of unpaid Thai rice farmers swarmed around the temporary office of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra today, threatening to storm the building if the beleaguered premier did not come out and speak to them.

The escalation of the protest by farmers, who have not been paid for crops sold to the government under a state rice-buying scheme that helped sweep Ms Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party to power, came as thousands of demonstrators seeking to unseat the prime minister surrounded the government’s headquarters.

Live television pictures showed farmers climbing over barbed wire fences and barriers at the defence ministry compound in north Bangkok where Ms Yingluck has set up temporary offices. They pushed back a line of riot police, who retreated from confrontation, but did not enter the building.

“The prime minister is well-off but we are not. How are we going to feed our children? I want her to think about us,” said one protesting farmer.

“Farmers are tough people, they wouldn’t normally speak out but they are at the end of their tether,” she added.

The farmers have mostly kept apart from a broader anti-government protest movement, about 10,000 of whose members surrounded the prime minister’s main Government House offices in central Bangkok early today.

Those protesters view Ms Yingluck as a proxy for her elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a self-exiled former prime minister who clashed with the establishment before he was overthrown by the army in 2006.

“We will use quick-dry cement to close the gates of Government House so that the cabinet cannot go in to work,” Nittitorn Lamrue, leader of the Network of Students and People for Thailand’s Reform, a group aligned with the main protest group, told reporters.

The disturbances came as gross domestic product (GDP) data showed growth slowed sharply in the final quarter of 2013, as the political paralysis caused by months of unrest and a disrupted election began to take its toll on Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

Protesters moved concrete barriers to block entrances of Government House and poured cement over the barriers in what they said was a “symbolic gesture” to show the building was closed. Ms Yingluck has been forced to work from the temporary offices since January.

“There are enough soldiers and police inside Government House to protect the building and the grounds,” National Security Council Chief Paradorn Pattanathabutr told Reuters. “The protesters said they will not come inside so we aren’t expecting a confrontation.”

Hundreds of riot police began an operation on Friday to reclaim protest sites and reopen roads and state offices, some of which have been blocked for more than three months.

Labour minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who is in charge of the security operation, said police would press ahead with a plan to reclaim protest sites near government buildings.

The protesters, led by firebrand former deputy premier Suthep Thaugsuban, have vowed to remain on the streets until they topple Ms Yingluck’s government and usher in political reforms before an election.

Reuters