EARTH Thailand

Scuffle with protesters mars PM’s visit to South

The Nation 28 November 2017

Opponents of Thepha coal-fired plant disrupt Prayut’s Songkhla trip

A SCUFFLE between security officers and Thepha coal-fired power plant opponents occurred yesterday in downtown Songkhla, reportedly resulting in minor injuries and 10 people being taken to the local police station.

The confrontation occurred the day before a mobile Cabinet meeting scheduled for today in Songkhla. The power plant opponents had marched over 80 kilometres from Thepha district in an attempt to meet Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to hand him a formal complaint against the project.

The clash occurred at about 4pm as more than 100 protesters, including a network of Songkhla and Pattani residents, neared the Songkhla downtown area, intending to eat lunch near Samrong junction, according to Facebook posts by the group’s leaders, including Dr Supat Hasuwannakit, director of Chana Hospital in the province.

As of 6pm, 10 protest leaders had been taken to the Songkhla police station, while the rest had been dispersed. There were reports of minor injuries.

Supat said in his posts that the group had wanted to voice the reasons for their opposition to the project. He said they considered that the environmental and public health assessment reports for the proposed project were not sufficiently detailed and public hearings had not properly heard from people with concerns. 

The group feared the project, particularly the coal-fired element, would be tabled separately from a project involving a proposed pier for the Cabinet to endorse today, and wished to submit their complaint to the prime minister.

Bunjong Nasae, chairman of the Raktalaethai Association, who expressed support for the group, urged Prayut to meet with protesters and hear their arguments as a show of the government’s sincerity. 

Mobile Cabinet meetings, he said, should enable the government to listen to people’s concerns and solve their problems, not just an opportunity for business people to approach the Cabinet to ask for support.

Prayut earlier told people that he was coming to Pattani province to build understanding about the government’s policies, not to vie for votes. 

He visited a livestock market in Nong Jik district in the morning, where he told people that he had taken a long trip by road as his aircraft had been disrupted by torrential rains and had been forced to land at an airfield in Songkhla province.

The premier added that security efforts had improved and a better economy would follow, urging people not to hate the military, as the situation in the South had improved since it stepped in.

“I’m here, not to vie for votes, but to create understanding about how we will move the country forward,” he said. “There are a lot of problems, some real, others not. But I insist that we have been working extensively so that you can access the things that are available to people in other regions.” 

The premier said there would be a major investment in a number of infrastructure projects in the region.

At the end of the speech, the premier had a tense encounter with one fisherman. Because of the noisy atmosphere, there was apparently a minor misunderstanding that prompted Prayut to shout at the man.

When security officers moved in to remove the fisherman, the premier said: “Please be cool, everyone involved is trying to solve the problems and they all cannot be solved at once.”

The premier was also scheduled to have discussions about security and meet local leaders as well as hold a late evening meeting in Songkhla to address social and economic development in the South.