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Violence forces FTA venue switch

Bangkok Post

Violence forces FTA venue switch

Chiang Mai (BP-TNA)

12 January 2006

Demonstrators scuffled with police at a downtown hotel, forcing a brief halt in bargaining on the proposed Free Trade Area (FTA) agreement between Thailand and the United States, and negotiators from the two countries decided to change the venue of their meeting.

In Bangkok, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra insisted that the FTA talks must go on or Thailand risked a drop its its exports to the US, the country’s largest trade partner.

"If we can’t export to the USA, because we can’t compete with other countries that have trade agreements with the USA, we will suffer trade deficits," said Mr Thaksin, in a speech to a gathering of some 500 leading Thai and foreign businessmen in Bangkok.

As the Thai-US FTA negotiations proceeded for the third day, hundreds of protesters from various civil society groups opposing the pact remained in front of the Sheraton Hotel where the meeting has been held since Monday. The protesters tried to force their way into the hotel in a bid to pressure the negotiators to abandon their talks.

Both countries representatives agreed to change the venue for their meeting from the Sheraton Hotel to a private golf course about 20km distant from the hotel.

To avoid bring noticed by protesters, some negotiators exited the hotel by masquerading as tourists. The protesters tried in vain to block vans and automobiles taking negotiators from the hotel.

Deputy Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul who observed the negotiations said that it was necessary to change the meeting venue to ensure the negotiators’ safety and maintain their concentration.

The deputy public health minister said that several key points concerning drug patents would be tabled for discussion today (Jan 11). He reiterated that the Thai government would definitely protect the rights and interests of the country on this issue and would later hold the ress conference in Bangkok to reveal the result of the negotiations after the talks ended on Jan 13.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Kongsak Wanthana said that he had been informed by the governor of Chiang Mai of the latest demonstration developments at the Sheraton Hotel. He said the protesters could stage the protest but they should not do anything above the rules of law. The clashes that occurred on Tuesday when protesters tried to force their way into the hotel contradicted the principle and caused trouble to others, he said.

ACM Kongsak said he had ordered security measures to be strictly observed to maintain control of the situation, which he believed would not get out of hand.