About 500 protesters gathered yesterday at the Rayong provincial hall on the first day of a rally aimed at pressuring the government to extend a list of 11 harmful activities requiring special monitoring to 18 types of industrial projects.
They claim a ministerial regulation covering the list does not cover all projects threatening public health and the environment. They want the government to adopt the list of 18 harmful activities proposed by an independent four-party panel chaired by former prime minister Anand Panyarachun.
The demonstration caused minor inconvenience to traffic outside the provincial hall as protesters occupied one lane of the road.
A group opposing the protest did not show up. The group claiming to represent 29 of 33 Map Ta Phut communities had threatened to hold a counter rally, raising fears of possible clashes.
Demonstrators marched to Rayong provincial health office in the late afternoon to demand that authorities make public how many people had fallen sick and were dying from industrial pollution-related causes.
Protest leader Suthi Atchasai said the rally would be prolonged if the government did not respond to their demand to revoke the regulation on the harmful activities.
"If there is no response from the government, we will exert more pressure by moving to the Map Ta Phut industrial estate," he said.
The Rayong protest was joined by people affected by industrial projects in provinces such as Saraburi, Phitsanulok, Udon Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat. Greenpeace activists aboard the Rainbow Warrior vessel will visit today to lend moral support.
Wor Phongsai, a villager from Phitsanulok who took part in the protest, said he wanted the harmful activities list to include the mining industry as his community had been badly affected.
His family members had fallen ill from dust from years of rock blasting.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday confirmed the list of harmful activities was based on a well-rounded study and covered all industrial activities that must follow procedures under Section 67 of the constitution. He said he was ready to hold talks with protesters to explain the matter.
Instead of rallying against the list, villagers should work with authorities to set up buffer zones between industrial sites and community areas, he said.
Outgoing Rayong governor Sayumporn Limthai said he had asked protesters not to move to Map Ta Phut industrial estate as this could trigger confrontations with villagers supporting industrial development.
Mr Sayumporn will be succeeded as governor today by Tawatchai Terdpaothai.
Mr Sayumporn said he had earmarked 58.7 million baht for a health check scheme for people living in pollution control areas in Rayong from 2010 to 2012.
Meanwhile, logistics operators have called on authorities to deploy enough security officers to prevent the demonstration affecting transport and infrastructure services in Map Ta Phut, especially at the deep sea port.
"We are concerned that if the protest drags on and if there is a clash between different groups, transportation of goods in the Eastern Seaboard area will be affected," said an adviser to the Land Transport Federation of Thailand, Thongyu Khongkant.
Activists are undermining investment by causing doubts among foreign investors about government policies. This would affect the economy in general, he said.
"I don't think the activists should continue to put pressure on the government after the harmful activities list was clearly announced," Mr Thongyu said.