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(Reuters) – Some Thai anti-government protesters followed the advice of their leader on Saturday, shunning products of firms linked to the family of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and handing back cellphone SIM cards.

The protesters have blocked main Bangkok intersections with tents, tires and sandbags, seeking to unseat Yingluck and halt the influence of her billionaire brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, an ousted former premier regarded by many as the real power behind the government.

This week, they targeted businesses linked, or once linked, to the Shinawatra family, sending stock prices tumbling and on Saturday some answered protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban’s call to return their SIM cards belonging to mobile phone company Advanced Info Service Pcl (AIS).

The company promptly sent a text message to clients saying it no longer had any connection with the Shinawatra family.

“AIS is not involved in politics and is not a pipeline for any side,” it said. “Dr Thaksin and family have already sold all shares in the company since 23 January, 2006, and from then are no longer connected with the company.”

Aunjit Wongsampan, 65, lined up in central Bangkok to hand in her SIM card.

“I think the signal is poor and I am changing it because the company is too wealthy,” she told Reuters.

When shown the company’s text message, she said: “I don’t believe them any more. I have made my choice.”

Yingluck’s supporters denounced the targeting of business when the protests have already taken a toll on the economy, on tourism in particular, with arrivals in Bangkok sharply down.

“What we don’t like right now is their involvement in threatening companies on the stock exchange that is not involved with government,” Tida Tawornseth, chairwoman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), told Reuters. “It’s a move away from government into business.”

The UDD, a protest movement largely made up of “red shirt” Thaksin supporters based in the populous north and northeast, is holding a meeting of its leaders from across the country on Sunday in Nakhon Ratchasima, northeast of the capital.

STOCK PRICES SLIDE

Generous subsidies for farmers in the north and northeast were a centerpiece of the platform that swept Yingluck to power in 2011, but they have left Thailand with vast stockpiles of rice and a bill it is struggling to fund.

About 500 anti-Thaksin protesters gathered this week outside the Bangkok offices of SC Asset Corp, a property developer controlled by the Shinawatra family, waving Thai flags and blowing whistles.

Yingluck was executive chairwoman of the company before being swept to power in a landslide election victory in 2011.

SC Asset’s share price has lost almost 10 percent since Wednesday and mobile handset distributor M-Link Asia Corp, also with links to the family, lost 12 percent.

Tida said Sunday’s rally would consolidate plans to restore democracy after the opposition boycotted and disrupted elections this month, leaving the country paralyzed under a caretaker government. She ruled out any plans for violence.

“If we wanted to clash, we would have done so a long time ago,” she said. “We wouldn’t have to wait for this long.”

Four protesters and a police officer were killed on Tuesday when police attempted to reclaim protest sites near government buildings. Six people were wounded by a grenade on Friday.

The protests are the latest installment of an eight-year political battle broadly pitting the Bangkok middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly rural supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin.

Demonstrators accuse Thaksin of nepotism and corruption and say that, prior to being toppled by the army in 2006, he used taxpayers’ money for populist subsidies such as the rice scheme and easy loans that bought him the loyalty of millions.

The former telecoms tycoon lives in self-exile to avoid a two-year prison sentence for a graft conviction he says was politically motivated.

(Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Suthep keen for alliance with angry farmers

Posted by Nuttapon_S On February - 8 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

The Suthep Thaugsuban-led anti-government movement appears to be seeking an alliance with rice farmers as the embattled caretaker government struggles to find the money owed to the farmers under the price-pledge scheme.

Yesterday, Suthep, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) leader, led another march in Bangkok to raise money for farmers who have not been paid for their crops by the government. A further fund-raising march is planned for Monday.

Suthep said yesterday’s march through the main business district of Silom and adjacent areas aimed to collect at least Bt10 million in donations from the public. The money would go towards financing the farmers’ own protests, said PDRC spokesman Akanat Promphan.

In a repeat of previous PDRC marches on Bangkok streets, supporters and sympathisers lined the street to hand cash to Suthep.

The government owes more than a million farmers a total of Bt140 billion under its rice-pledging scheme, a policy that helped the ruling Pheu Thai Party win the 2011 general election but has now run dry of funds. The rice scheme is also the subject of an investigation by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).

However, rice growers are split over who should be blamed for the authorities’ defaulting on debts owed. One group of farmers blames the government while another group points the finger at the PDRC.

More than 400 farmers left their road blockade in Kanchanaburi yesterday to join farmers who have been protesting at the Commerce Ministry in Nonthaburi since Thursday.

Many also marched from the ministry to the NACC office to request that the anti-graft agency speed up its investigation into the rice-pledging scheme. After an hour-long meeting between representatives of both sides, the farmers said they were satisfied with a promise that the results of the investigation would be delivered within the next few months.

About 100 Nakhon Phanom farmers gathered yesterday at the Third Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, threatening to blockade it with a force of 10,000 protesters if the government failed to pay what it owed them within seven days. The 18,789 Nakhon Phanom farmers under the scheme are owed a total of Bt1.39 billion by the government. Elsewhere, more than 250 farmers in Kamphaeng Phet and more 1,000 in Suphan Buri yesterday submitted letters to provincial governors asking Suthep to help push through loans to pay the rice scheme’s debts.

The Kamphaeng Phet growers also asked him to help alleviate the plight of more than 30,000 farming households in the province that have not had rice-pledge payments for the past four to five months.

In Phitsanulok, a group of about 200 farmers gathered at the city hall, calling on Suthep’s help to push through funds for the rice scheme.

A government proposal that rice millers accept receipts from farmers under the scheme has met with reluctance on the part of the rice millers.

Rice Millers Club of Phichit vice chairman Wirat Limthongsomjai said it was unlikely rice millers would accept the pledge receipts because they were already under financial stress. Banks have extended a total Bt300-million credit limit to farmers, while the farmers’ debt totals billions of baht.

“Moreover, each miller will have to reserve cash to buy rice from the next crop,” Wirat said.

Democrat spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut agreed with the government’s idea to encourage rice millers to lend farmers up to 50 per cent of the value of their pledge receipts. But he said the government would have to pay the interest incurred from this deal.

Suthep marches on Silom to raise fund for farmers

Posted by Rattana_S On February - 7 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

A woman displays her donation that she gave to Suthep Thaugsuban during his march on Silom Road Friday.

Suthep, the secretary general of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, staged the march to try to raise Bt10 million for farmers to use during their campaigns for the caretaker government to pay them for their rice sold under the rice-pledging scheme.

(Reuters) – Thailand went to the polls under heavy security on Sunday in an election that could push the divided country deeper into political turmoil and leave the winner paralyzed for months by street protests, legal challenges and legislative limbo.

Voting started peacefully a day after seven people were wounded by gunshots and explosions during a clash between supporters and opponents of embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in a north Bangkok stronghold of her Puea Thai Party.

Voting was called off in the district and some other polling stations were unable to open because of pressure by anti-government protesters. Polling outside the capital and the south was unaffected.

“The situation overall is calm and we haven’t received any reports of violence this morning,” National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabutr told Reuters. “The protesters are rallying peacefully to show their opposition to this election.”

The usual campaign billboards, glossy posters and pre-election buzz have been notably absent, as will be millions of voters fearful of violence or bent on rejecting a ballot bound to re-elect the political juggernaut controlled by Yingluck’s billionaire brother, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin, 64, is loved and loathed in Thailand, but his parties have won every poll since 2001. His opponents say he is a corrupt crony capitalist who rules by proxy from self-exile in Dubai.

“We’re not blocking the election. We’re postponing it,” said Nipon Kaewsook, 42, one of the hundreds of protesters blocking Ratchathewi District Office in central Bangkok to prevent the distribution of dozens of ballot boxes.

“We still need an election, but we need reform first,” added Nipon, an English teacher from Phattalung in southern Thailand.

Protesters shouted “Yingluck get out!” and “Thaksin go to jail!” They took celebratory selfies in front of the ballot boxes, placed in a car park at the back of the building.

Victory celebrations for Yingluck would probably be muted. With parliamentary seats unable to be filled, she could find herself on shaky ground, exposed to legal attacks and unable to pass bills and budgets crucial to reviving a stuttering economy.

Yingluck last week refused to postpone the election, even though a fifth of those registered for advance voting were unable to cast ballots after protesters blocked polling stations in 49 of 50 Bangkok districts as part of a “shutdown” of key intersections. In 28 southern constituencies, no votes will be cast because no candidates could sign up.

The Election Commission says results will not be available on Sunday. Its commissioners are braced for a deluge of complaints and challenges to the results.

“There’s been a lot of obstruction, so much, every single step of the way,” commission secretary-general Puchong Nutrawong told Reuters.

“We don’t want this election to be a bloody election. We can get every single agency involved to make this election happen, but if there’s bloodshed, what’s the point?”

INTRACTABLE CRISIS

Anti-government demonstrators say Thaksin subverted Thailand’s fragile democracy by entrenching money politics and using taxpayers’ money for generous subsidies, cheap healthcare and easy loans that have bought him loyalty from millions of working-class Thai voters in the north and northeast.

With broad support from Bangkok’s middle class and tacit backing of the royalist establishment, old-money elite and military, the protesters reject the election and want to suspend democracy, replacing it with an appointed “people’s council” to reform politics and erode Thaksin’s influence.

The latest round of tumult in the eight-year political conflict erupted in November and underscored Thaksin’s central role in the intractable struggle, both as hero and villain.

Yingluck was largely tolerated by Thaksin’s opponents but her party miscalculated when it tried to introduce a blanket amnesty that would have nullified a graft conviction against Thaksin and allowed him to return home.

Many Thais see history repeating itself after a cycle of elections, protests and military or judicial interventions that have polarized the country and angered Thaksin’s “red shirt” supporters, who held crippling blockades in 2010 and have vowed to defend his sister from any overthrow attempt.

Thailand’s military has remained neutral so far, but the judiciary has taken on an unusually large number of cases in the past two months in response to complaints against Yingluck and Puea Thai that could result in the party’s dissolution and lengthy bans for its top politicians.

There is also a chance the election could be annulled, as it was in 2006, over a technicality. The Election Commission is expecting lawsuits to be filed demanding the election be voided.

The main opposition Democrat Party is boycotting the poll and the commission has already voiced concerns that it would result in too few legitimately elected MPs to form a parliamentary quorum.

With no quorum to re-elect a prime minister, it looks likely Yingluck could be a caretaker premier for months. Even with a fresh mandate, a stalemate is almost certain, giving her opponents more time to intensify their campaign against her and for legal challenges to be lodged.

(Additional reporting by Andrew R.C. Marshall, Alisa Tang, Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Mark Bendeich, Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez)

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