Thai rubber farmers protest again to demand government intervention
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Rubber farmers in Thailand took to the streets again on Monday to demand that the government buy their produce at prices higher than the market, rejecting a subsidy offered last month and threatening violence if their demands are not met.
Around 300 rubber farmers gathered in Bang-saphan district, around 300 km (190 miles) south of Bangkok, blocking a main road with trees and trucks, police said.
They want the government to buy rubber sheet from them at 100 baht ($3.22) per kg, more than a third higher than the market price on Monday of 73 baht.
"If the government doesn't agree to our proposal, we will escalate the protest and it will be violent," Tossapol Kwanraud, one of the protest's leaders, told Reuters.
In September, after the same road was blocked by protesters, the government approved a budget of 20 billion baht to help rubber farmers cope with higher production costs.
It said it would provide rubber producers with a subsidy of 2,520 baht per rai (0.16 hectare/0.4 acre), limited to one subsidy per household.
Officials said that would be worth about 10 baht per kg of rubber, which, on top of the current market price of 73 baht for raw rubber, would give farmers about 83 baht per kg.
Some farmers' leaders accepted that offer but even at the time other groups said it was not enough.
"It's not the right way to tackle this problem. The government should buy from us at prices that would help us have better income," Tossapol said.
The protesters want something like the government's rice intervention scheme, under which it buys grain at prices way above the market. However, that program, promised by the ruling party ahead of a 2011 election, is widely seen as wasteful and inefficient.
Police said they were trying to open negotiations with the protesters.
The price of Thai unsmoked rubber sheet is little changed from the end of 2012, held down by weak demand from China and other big consumers. It is far below the 180 baht touched in February 2011, when benchmark smoked rubber sheet (RSS3) hit a record $6.40 per kg.
Thailand is the world's biggest rubber producer and exporter. It produces around 3.8 million metric tons of rubber sheet a year, around a third of the world's output, and exports 90 percent of it.
($1 = 31.09 Thai baht)
(Editing by Alan Raybould)
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