Thai rubber protests injure dozens of police

NAKHON SI THAMMARAT, Thailand (AP) — The Thai government said Tuesday it could declare a security emergency in a district of southern Thailand to stamp out violent protests over low rubber prices, a day after dozens of police and demonstrators were injured in rioting.

Protesters demanding higher subsidies for rubber farmers hurled rocks, bricks and other objects at riot police and set fire to several police vehicles on Monday in the Cha-uat district of Nakhon Si Thammarat province. Some 77 policemen and at least 10 protesters were injured.

The violence erupted as police tried to move protesters who had blocked a traffic intersection. Protests started last month when thousands of rubber farmers blocked roads and railways in the south, where most of the country’s rubber is grown.

Thailand is the world’s top producer and exporter of natural rubber, which is used in products from condoms to car tires. Due to weaker demand in a sluggish global economy, prices for rubber have steadily dropped since peaking in 2011.

Last week, the Cabinet approved a 21.2 billion baht ($657 million) subsidy for rubber farmers. Most farmer groups have agreed in principle to the government’s offer but hard-line groups have threatened to shut down a port, a border checkpoint and a major road junction in the south.

The protest site, 580 kilometers (360 miles) south of Bangkok, was calm on Tuesday, after provincial authorities declared the area “off-limits” to protesters by enacting a special security order, said Suporn Atthawong, a deputy secretary-general to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

“The government is evaluating the situation,” Suporn told reporters. “Security agencies will determine if other laws, such as the Internal Security Act, are needed.”

The internal security law authorizes officials to seal off roads, take action against security threats, impose curfews and ban the use of electronic devices in designated areas. Peaceful and unarmed rallies are allowed under the law.

Police Maj. Gen. Somchai Uamthanom said the violence was mainly caused by teenagers who had joined the protests.

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