Anti-FTA protests end - for now

Bangkok Post

Anti-FTA protests end - for now

Chiang Mai (BP - TNA)

12 January 2006

Protesters from 11 civil society groups opposing the proposed Free Trade Area (FTA) agreement talks between Thailand and the United States forced negotiators to move out of town Wednesday. Then they called off their three-day protest.

But the groups promised to renew the protests in Bangkok and with bigger crowds, if the government fails to keep its word to consult the nation on the Thai-US FTA before it becomes law.

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.

Despite their demand that the negotiations be abandoned, more than 2,000 demonstrators who were gathered in front of the Sheraton Hotel in Chiang Mai claimed victory after their three-day protest forced negotiators to move from the Sheraton Hotel to the Chiang Mai Country Club Golf Course, some 20km from the city.

The demonstrators dispersed peacefully at mid-afternoon Wednesday.

In a written declaration, the protesters claimed that they successfully made the Thai-US FTA pact a public issue that the entire Thai society needed to closely monitor.

In the end, they said, the pact would determine the political future of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, because if the government fails to keep its promise not to sign any agreement causing severe consequences to the majority of Thai people, they would reopen the campaign against the government.

In a defiant last moment, a group of protesters burned a US-flag covered coffin with the name and effigy of Thai chief negotiator Nitya Pibulsongkram on it before they dispersed peacefully.

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