Fri, Feb 21, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Thai protesters target firms linked to PM

Reuters, BANGKOK

Rice farmers ride on farm trucks and tractors at a highway in Ang Thong Province, Thailand, yesterday, on their way to join a protest in Bangkok against delays in the government’s rice payment scheme.

Photo: EPA

Protesters campaigning for months to oust Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday turned their anger on businesses linked to her wealthy family, rallying outside the offices of a property developer whose shares fell 5 percent.

Yingluck’s government appears increasingly hemmed in by opponents and the judicial system, lacking the fiscal powers to fund key policies and warned by a court on Wednesday that it cannot use a state of emergency to disperse protesters.

Four protesters and a police officer were killed on Tuesday in the deadliest clashes since the unrest began in November last year, when police attempted to reclaim sites near government buildings that have been occupied for weeks.

The protesters are seeking to unseat Yingluck and stamp out what they see as the malign influence of her brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, regarded by many as the real power behind the government.

About 500 protesters gathered yesterday outside the Bangkok offices of SC Asset Corp, a property developer controlled by the Shinawatra family.

“We will hamper all Shinawatra businesses,” protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told a Wednesday night rally. “If you love your country, stop using Shinawatra products and do everything you can so that their business fails.”

Yingluck was the company’s executive chairwoman before being swept to power in a landslide election victory in 2011.

SC Asset shares fell 5 percent yesterday, following a similar fall the previous day, while shares in M-Link Asia Corp, a mobile handset distributor with links to the Shinawatras, have lost almost 10 percent over the past two days.

Problems continue to mount for Yingluck, who has headed a caretaker government with limited spending powers since calling a snap election in December. Since voting on Feb. 2 was disrupted, it could be months before a new government is installed.

An anti-corruption agency this week filed charges against the beleaguered leader over a soured rice subsidy scheme that has stoked middle-class anger and left hundreds of thousands of farmers — Yingluck’s natural backers — unpaid.

More than 1,000 farmers were yesterday headed toward Bangkok from the central plains, the country’s main rice-growing area.

Former Thai MP Chada Thaiseth said he would lead the convoy of farmers to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.

“We are not sure where we will set up camp, but we will not leave the capital until we are paid for every grain of rice sold,” Chada told reporters.

The protests continue an eight-year political battle pitting the Bangkok middle class and royalist establishment against Yingluck and Thaksin’s mostly rural supporters.

Demonstrators say that prior to being toppled by the army in a 2006 coup, Thaksin used taxpayers’ money for populist subsidies and easy loans that bought him the loyalty of millions.

Yingluck has continued those policies, but the rice scheme, which paid farmers far above market rate, has proved ruinously expensive.

Thailand’s anti-corruption body began probing the scheme last month and on Tuesday said it was filing charges against Yingluck.

She has been summoned to hear the charges on Thursday next week.

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