Thai rice farmers protest
HUNDREDS of farmers rallied outside Thailand's Justice Ministry yesterday to protest against the state's failure to pay them for rice bought under a controversial subsidy scheme that the caretaker administration in Bangkok is struggling to fund.
The rice programme was a signature policy of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was swept to power in 2011 with the help of millions of rural votes, but has become one of the biggest threats to her grip on power.
Farmers' leaders said they planned to march later on Defence Ministry offices in northern Bangkok that have been Ms Yingluck's temporary headquarters since a campaign by anti-government protesters to disrupt normal business in the capital forced her to relocate last month.
The government lacks the power to transfer money from the central budget to pay for the rice it has committed to buy from farmers, some of whom have not been paid for months.
Rice farmers have until now been natural supporters of Ms Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, who raised living standards in the countryside with populist policies such as cheap health care when he was prime minister from 2001.
The farmers have so far kept their distance from the broader protest movement, whose leaders have been seeking to make common cause with them.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban led a march to the upscale Thonglor and Ekkamai neighbourhoods yesterday to collect donations for the farmers. "(The farmers) can use the money to bring legal cases against the government...," he told supporters on Sunday.