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Mon, Mar 08, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Thai unions want government to can privatization plans

AFP , BANGKOK

Thailand's decision to shelve the privatization of the nation's biggest energy producer has failed to end protests from unions who demanded yesterday that the listing plans be abandoned altogether.

Energy Minister Prommin Lertsuridej said the sale of 25 percent of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) would be postponed to allow for consultation with unions and the creation of a new power regulator.

"The initial public offering of EGAT is postponed indefinitely and the government will not set a new deadline," he said Saturday, in a stunning reversal of government policy forced by mounting demonstrations.

"I hope that overseas as well as local investors will understand the situation," he said, referring to fears that the postponement of the country's biggest ever float will hurt confidence in Thailand's economy.

But EGAT union chairman Sirichai Mai-ngarm said the backdown did not go far enough and that he would push ahead with plans for a huge rally tomorrow outside Government House which will cap two weeks of angry protests.

"Postponement is not our goal because the government will carry on with the privatization plan anyway," he said.

"Bringing EGAT to the stock market is not a good idea, the government should call it off and find another solution," he said.

Government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair confirmed that the listing, which was originally slated for May, had only been postponed until the administration has consulted with all concerned parties.

"The government will go ahead with the privatization plan, it has not changed its mind, the government has just made a postponement to make sure all requests can be discussed," he said.

Despite Thaksin's warning last week that the stock market and baht currency could crash if the privatization plan -- a key plank in its economic policy -- was abandoned, Jakrapob said he did not anticipate a slide on the bourse.

"We can restore confidence with investors," he said.

And after the unions were warned that their demonstrations would be closed down if they got out of hand, Jakrapob urged the protesters to ensure that tomorrow's rally did not become violent.

"This is not the time to trying to win against the other side, it is time to turn towards each other and cooperate to solve the problem," he said.

Thaksin has taken a hard line against the tens of thousands of EGAT workers rallying outside the organization's headquarters, bolstered by other state employees who fear a sweeping privatization drive will cost them their jobs.

But in his weekly radio address Saturday he admitted he had pushed the issue too fast.

"I have asked my ministers why workers have had to rally and I found out that I myself must be blamed for rushing officials to privatize and that a lack of explanation to the public has caused misunderstandings," he said.

Thaksin said the public had gained the wrong impression that the entire 25 percent stake would be sold to foreigners, but that in fact only about 2 percent to 3 percent would find its way to overseas investors.

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