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Thai rubber farmers block road, railway to demand better prices from government

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NAKHON SI THAMMARAT, Thailand - Hundreds of rubber farmers have blockaded a major road and railway leading to Thailand's south over the past week to pressure the government to shore up declining rubber prices.

Traffic has been interrupted since Friday and railway services were partly shut down this week in Cha-uat district in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, 580 kilometres (360 miles) south of Bangkok.

The farmers called for the government to guarantee the price of rubber to help increase their incomes. Rubber prices in Thailand have continually dropped since peaking in 2011 due to weaker demand in a sluggish global economy.

Police Maj. Gen. Ronnapong Saikaew said Thursday about 1,000 police officers have been deployed to monitor the situation, but a crackdown on demonstrators was not looming.

In negotiations in Bangkok on Wednesday, representatives of the farmers demanded the government fix a price of 120 baht ($3.70) per kilogram for rubber products but the agriculture ministry made an offer of 80 baht ($2.50) per kilogram.

Thailand is the world's top producer and exporter of natural rubber which is used in products from condoms to car tires. The government already subsidizes rice growers by paying them above-market prices, a scheme that has accumulated losses of at least $4 billion since its inception two years ago and resulted in Thailand losing its spot as world's No. 1 rice exporter.

"If the government agrees to our prices, all of us here will call off the demonstration immediately," said Somkid Chaikotchadet, a rubber farmer from Nakhon Si Thammarat. "We have come out to protest because we are really in trouble. I want the government to take care of us villagers."

The demonstrators said groups of rubber farmers from other parts of the country will stage separate rallies on Monday.

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