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Anti-govt protesters call on PTT to delist


July 26, 2008

Thailand: Anti-govt protesters call on PTT to delist

Thousands of anti-government demonstrators marched to Thailand's top oil firm on Friday, calling for its renationalisation, as protests outside the capital led to violent clashes with government supporters, reported Reuters.

Members of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) - a grouping of businessmen, academics and royalists - blocked gates into the offices of the oil and gas firm, PTT Plc, and disrupted traffic on the highway outside.

The PAD, whose anti-government rallies in 2005 led to a coup against then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra a year later, has waged a two-month street campaign against Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his pro-Thaksin, six-party coalition government.

On Friday the group said Thaksin and his allies were the main beneficiaries of the stock market listing of state-owned PTT Plc in 2001, which reduced the government's stake to 66 percent.

"They are more concerned with the benefits of shareholders than the public interest," PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul told the cheering crowd, referring to PTT managers.

PAD supporters also say the government is unable to influence fuel prices after the dilution of its stake in PTT and accuse the company of profiteering from the rise in global oil prices.

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PTT says it remains majority-owned by the government and supports government policies aimed at easing the burden of high fuel prices, not immediately putting up pump prices when global oil prices rise, for example.

PAD's leaders, some of whom were business or political allies of Thaksin in the past, accuse Samak of trying to protect Thaksin and his friends from graft charges and wanting to turn Thailand into a republic, charges they deny.

About 300 police were deployed to the rally to prevent a repeat of clashes between pro-government and anti-government demonstrators elsewhere in the country, Metropolitan Police chief Aswin Kwanmuang said.

On Thursday, about 700 government supporters armed with planks, axes and slingshots broke through a police blockade and clashed with 150 unarmed anti-government demonstrators in the city of Udon Thani, 650 km (400 miles) northeast of Bangkok.

Most of the 13 wounded were from the anti-government group and two were in a critical condition, police said. Local media said one man had died but hospital staff told Reuters this was not the case. No arrests have been made.

Similar clashes took place on Thursday in another northeastern province, Buriram. Police there arrested 13 government supporters. These clashes were the most serious yet as government supporters in the provinces, led by local politicians from the ruling parties, have reacted, sometimes with violence, to the anti-government rallies that are spreading from Bangkok.

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