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Main road to the south re-opens after rubber rally clashes.

The Petchkasern highway has re-opened to traffic after clashes between riot police and rubber protestors, while police are claiming the violence was started by a group of youths.

Pol. Maj. Gen. Thanet Sunthornsuck, chief of the provincial police, declared the road open from noon today (Friday 6th September) after protests on Thursday hampered traffic to southern provinces, forcing drivers to use alternative local roads in Ban Sang and neighbouring Bang Saphan Noi district.

Protestors at the rally called on the government to guarantee better rubber prices for famers in the province who say they are struggling to cope on their low income given rising living costs.

Violence erupted on Thursday night and in the early hours of Friday when police decided to fire tear gas at the demonstrators and were countered by giant firecrackers and homemade ping-pong bombs.

Two vehicles were torched at 1am on Friday before the violence ended at 2am. The clash injured twenty five policemen, one seriously. Reports said that five farmers were hurt.

Police detained twelve protest leaders at Phramongkutkla Border Police Patrol camp for questioning. Police said they suspect a group of youths were behind the clash. Pol. Gen. Thanet said some had come from other provinces to incite violence adding that police were collecting evidence to ask the provincial court to issue arrest warrants for a number of young suspects.

Forensic experts meanwhile arrived at the scene of the violence to gather evidence where famers showed them tear gas cartridges fired by the police.

Santad Dejkerd, a protest leader in Bang Saphan warned that bigger protests could be imminent after the clashes on Thursday night. He urged the government to take responsibility for the fact that some demonstrators were injured and called for fair investigations into the incident and proof to substantiate the claim that a group of youths from outside the province were partly to blame.

Mr Santad said farmers would seek bail for protest leaders who had been detained and criticized the police for using excessive force to break up the protest. Protesters will ask the Lawyers Council of Thailand to help them take legal action against the police he added including some officers who allegedly sexually harassed female demonstrators.

The national rubber policy committee on Thursday stood by its August 14th resolution on measures to help rubber growers through a subsidy of 1,260 baht per rai, although it agreed to extend the cap on the subsidy from 10 to 25 rai per farmer. But farmers want guaranteed prices instead, and have been demanding at least 100 baht per kilogram for unsmoked rubber  sheet.

A meeting of the confederation of rubber farmers in Surat Thani agreed to lower the asking price to a guaranteed 92 bath per kilogram and urged for the end of the allies in all locations.
A meeting between southern famers and a government committee led by Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnok was meanwhile held in Nakhon Si Thammarat in a bid to trash out the difference between the sides

Story by Ann Kwanta

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