Rubber farmers clashed with security forces in southern Thailand as protesters torched cars and police fired tear gas in the latest unrest to shake the politically turbulent kingdom, officials said yesterday.
More than two dozen police officers were injured and 11 protest leaders were arrested as the demonstration in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province over falling rubber prices turned violent late on Thursday, authorities said.
Two vehicles, apparently belonging to local media, were set ablaze during the clashes, which flared after about 400 farmers tried to block a major highway to the south of the country, provincial police commander Major General Thanet Soonthornsuk said.
“Twenty-five police officers were wounded. Two of them are in a serious condition after they were hit on the head by rocks,” he said, adding that demonstrators had thrown acid at him.
Thailand is the world’s top exporter of natural rubber and mounting anger among the kingdom’s rubber farmers over their falling incomes poses a fresh challenge to Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s two-year-old government.
In the past few days, angry rubber farmers have blocked roads, train lines and even — briefly — the entrance to an airport in Thailand’s south, where plunging global prices for the commodity have hit the local economy hard.
The region is a heartland of the opposition Democrat Party.
Yingluck’s government has so far rejected demands to guarantee a rubber price of 120 baht (US$3.70) per kilogram — which farmers later reduced to between 90 baht and 100 baht — about 50 percent higher than the current price on world markets.
Instead it has stuck to an offer to pay farmers 1,260 baht per rai (0.16 hectares) of rubber plantation to help with production costs, along with funds to boost the efficiency of rubber processing — an offer rejected by the protesters.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnog said he would travel to the south later yesterday to meet the protest leaders.
“We will open talks with them at all levels,” he told reporters, without revealing if the government was ready to make concessions.