OT-Thailand-Fishermen Threaten Port Blockade in Protest of High Fuel

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March 10, 2000

Demand to allow debate on fuel costs--Fishermen threaten new port blockade

The opposition called yesterday for a general debate in Parliament on the impact of rising oil prices.

Opposition pressure for a debate by both the Senate and House came as Vatana Asavahame, a deputy interior minister, urged the government to ease the impact on commodity prices.

Mr Vatana suggested energy-saving measures be adopted and that oil taxes be cut and offset by money from the 10-billion-baht oil fund.

However, Abhisit Vejjajiva, a PM's Office minister, and Goanpot Asavinvichit, deputy commerce minister, opposed a tax cut.

Mr Abhisit said: "Our country is open to free trade and sometimes we have to accept such crises."Rather than cut the tax, the government had prepared measures to help specific sectors, he said, expressing confidence the crisis would be temporary despite moves by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries to push up prices by reducing output.

Mr Goanpot asked people not to be pessimistic. "Don't think of this as a crisis," he said. "To gain from it, we're planning Thai export fairs overseas."Chaturon Chaisaeng, the New Aspiration secretary-general, said the government should already be preparing for an eventual cut in the oil price. "Not much can be done now with the price high but preparations should be made for quick action once the crisis eases," he said.

In Songkhla, the operators of 1,000 inshore fishing boats threatened to blockade the bay unless the government helped them deal with higher fuel bills by Tuesday.

Viroj Chanthanimit, chairman of the Fisheries Association of Thailand, said members would draw up proposals on Tuesday to be given to the government.

The association could not stop members from protesting but could ask them not to disrupt shipping lines that could damage exports.

In Chiang Rai, many local people and passenger bus drivers have been affected by the hike, which is bringing joy only to bicycle dealers.

Diesel was retailing at 13.15 baht a litre, regular petrol 15.52 baht and premium petrol 16.32 baht. Many oil exporters in Chiang Khong, Chiang Saen and Mae Sai districts were stepping up shipments to enable them to claim export tariff refunds.

It was reported some of the oil was being smuggled back to petrol stations along the border at lower prices.

According to the Customs Department, petrol exports from Chiang Rai during October 1999 and January 2000 exceeded ten million litres.



-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), March 10, 2000

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