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Farmers in Northeast, Ratchaburi demand immediate payment

As many as 20 farmers' organisations based in the Northeast rallied yesterday to demand that the government start paying them for their pledged rice immediately.

Upset over the long delay in payments, these organisations also called for the immediate resignation of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The rice-pledging scheme, one of the most controversial of the ruling Pheu Thai Party's populist policies, has put the government in a bit of a jam as it struggles to secure a loan to cover the Bt167 billion reportedly owed to 1.4 million farmers.

Members of the 20 farmers' organisations gathered in Nakhon Ratchasima to announce their demands and threatened to block Mitrapab Road on Monday if they did not get a positive response.

"The farmers are in serious trouble," said Kongrit Buaboon, a protest leader.

More than 300 farmers also partially blocked the Bangkok-bound lanes of Rama II Road in Ratchaburi's Pak Tho district to protest against the delayed payments. The blockade lasted for several hours, causing a 5-kilometre-long traffic jam. Eventually, Pak Tho district chief Pairat Janphonhorm managed to talk the protesters into dispersing, but not before the farmers issued a warning that if they were not paid by January 31, they would block Rama II Road completely. That road is one of the country's main routes.

Meanwhile, more than 100 farm vehicles are to head from Phichit to Bangkok today so farmers can pressure the government into paying them their due. "Our move is not politically motivated. We simply need to address farmers' grievances," Kittisak Rattanawaha said yesterday as chairman of the Network of Farmers from 17 Northern Provinces.

Meanwhile, Banjong Tangjitwattanak, vice president of the Thai Rice Mills Association, said millers could help if the government agreed to relax the rules and allowed them to buy the rice-pledging certificates from the farmers. The millers could then produce the certificates to claim payments later.


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