Suthep Thaugsuban and his supporters have been trying to topple
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra since November, prompting the
government to announce a state of emergency ahead of Sunday's vote,
which was boycotted by the opposition.
The rice program was among the populist policies pioneered by
Yingluck's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister
central to the conflict that has divided Thais for eight years. He
was toppled by the military in 2006.
Generous subsidies for farmers were a centerpiece of the platform
that swept Yingluck to power in a landslide election win in 2011,
but have left Thailand with vast stockpiles of rice and a bill it is
struggling to fund.
Losses to the taxpayer, estimated at 200 billion baht ($6 billion) a
year, have fuelled protests against Yingluck and payment problems
risk alienating farmers at the heart of her support base in the
poorer north and northeast.
"Yingluck took farmers' rice more than seven months ago and hasn't
paid them," Suthep told supporters on Wednesday, even as another
warrant was issued for his arrest.
"Some of them have killed themselves and some of them are crying in
front of the television because they don't have a penny ... The
government said the rice-purchasing policy was to help farmers but
instead the policy became part of the government's corruption
Yingluck and her government are being investigated by an anti-graft
panel for alleged irregularities in the rice scheme. That and other
cases going through the politicized courts could dissolve her Puea
Thai Party and ban top officials.
The rice program is close to collapse after the commerce minister
said China had cancelled an order for 1.2 million metric tons due to
the corruption investigation.
State-run Krung Thai Bank has joined other lenders in saying it will
not provide loans urgently needed to rescue a scheme that has at
times been buying rice at prices up to two-thirds above the
prevailing benchmark rates.
"MONEY WENT TO THE DOGS"
Anti-government protests have been blocking parts of Bangkok in the
latest round of an eight-year dispute that broadly pits Bangkok's
middle class, southern Thais and the royalist establishment against
the mostly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin.
Ten people have been killed in sporadic bursts of violence, although
the capital has been calm since Sunday's disrupted poll.
"Farmers who took their rice to milling houses received just over
10,000 baht ($310) when the price they were guaranteed was 15,000
baht," Suthep said at a rally at one of the protest sites in
Bangkok's central business district.
"The rest of the money went to into the mouths of the dogs ... Each
of these dogs is fat."
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Yingluck said the government was only trying to help farmers.
"These problems stem from the dissolution of parliament (last year)
which made it difficult under the framework of the law to approve
payments," she told reporters.
"Whether this scheme is extended or not is up to the next government
... Everyone knows that the government does not have the power to do
anything that will affect the incoming government so this issue may
take time to resolve."
The Criminal Court approved arrest warrants on Wednesday for 19
protest leaders, including Suthep, for violating the state of
The decree bans political gatherings of more than five people,
despite the fact that thousands have gathered at main intersections
every night since it was introduced last month.
Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who is in charge of the state of
emergency, has threatened to arrest protest leaders several times
but has yet to act.
Suthep faces charges of murder related to violence in 2010 when, as
deputy prime minister, he sent in troops to crush protests by "red
shirt" supporters of Thaksin. More than 90 people were killed.
Suthep is due to appear in court on Thursday in that case.
The demonstrators say Yingluck is Thaksin's puppet and the costly
giveaways that won his parties every election since 2001 are
tantamount to vote-buying using taxpayers' money.
They say Thaksin's new political order is tainted by graft and
cronyism and want an appointed "people's council" to replace
Yingluck and overhaul a political system hijacked by her brother,
who lives in exile to avoid a jail term for graft.
Protesters succeeded in disrupting voting in a fifth of
constituencies in Sunday's election. The incomplete poll, the
results of which have not been announced, means Yingluck could head
a caretaker administration for months, unable to make policy
decisions, until vacant seats can be filled.
(Writing by Nick Macfie; editing by Robert Birsel)
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