Farmers drive their tractors and other farming vehicles in Ang Thong province, towards Bangkok. Photo: Reuters
Bangkok: Thousands of Thai farmers have called off a plan to blockade Bangkok’s main international airport after their leaders spoke with prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Ms Yingluck told them they would be paid next week for their latest rice crops under a controversial subsidy scheme that has cost Thailand billions of dollars.
Leaders of the group said the more than 1000-tractor convoy would travel to Bangkok and blockade the airport next week if they do not receive payments.
The Suvarnabhumi airport, built on swamp land on Bangkok's outskirts, was blockaded by anti-government protesters in 2008, causing chaos for air travellers in the country where tourism accounts for more than 10 per cent of gross domestic product.
The farmers are angry they have not been paid for their latest rice crops under a controversial subsidy scheme that has cost Thailand billions of dollars. The besieged government of Ms Yingluck has struggled to raise loans to pay the farmers.
Under the scheme that is being wound down the government has been buying rice at up to 50 per cent above global market rates.
In one of her most assertive speeches in weeks, Ms Yingluck earlier lashed out at the country’s anti-corruption commission, which has announced it will summon her next week to answer accusations she has been negligent in overseeing the scheme.
“If there is real justice and if there is no hidden agenda, the [commission] shouldn’t finalise my case in a rushed manner … that will play into the hands of those who want to overthrow the government,” she said.
Anti-government protesters have turned to Facebook and other social media sites to attack businesses associated with Ms Yingluck, Thailand’s first woman prime minister.
“We will hamper Shinawatra businesses,” said protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister in a military-backed government. “If you love your country, stop using Shinawatra products and do everything you can so that their business fails.”
Protesters have blocked access to the Bangkok offices of SC Asset Corp, a property developer controlled by the Shinawatra family.
For almost four months protesters have been demanding that Ms Yingluck and her elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, dismantle the government and quit politics. Mr Thaksin, a former prime minister ousted in a 2006 coup, lives in Dubai to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.
The conflict pits two groups of Thai elites against each other, one backed by Bangkok’s middle class and the other by rural masses in north and north-eastern provinces.