Thai rubber price protest turns violent, government forms top-level negotiating committee

BANGKOK - A protest by Thai rubber farmers demanding subsidies turned violent Thursday, with police in a southern province saying a group of demonstrators threw bricks and bottles containing an acidic liquid at them.

Rubber farmers have been blocking roads in several southern provinces to press their demands for compensation as the world market price for rubber has tumbled.

Police Col. Narong Supa-aim said about 50 mostly young protesters out of a group of about 250 blocking a road in Prachuap Khirikhan province attacked his men Thursday evening. He said 10 police including the provincial police chief were slightly injured, and 10 protest leaders were detained but not charged.

The government established a Cabinet-level team on Thursday to negotiate with the protest leaders, with an initial meeting scheduled for Friday.

There were also scattered scuffles at bigger protest sites in Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat provinces. But tensions seemed to have eased from the previous few days as the government indicated more willingness to negotiate.

There had been fears that the protesters would try to block provincial airports, some of which serve key tourist destinations. Rail services have resumed after protesters earlier blocked train tracks.

The government has offered to subsidize the farmers with cash payments pegged to the size of their plantations, while the farmers are demanding that they be paid a guaranteed price for their product. The government already maintains an expensive subsidy program for rice farmers.

Thailand is the world's top producer and exporter of natural rubber, which is used in products from condoms to car tires.