BANGKOK (AFP): Ten thousand Thai farmers massed in Bangkok today, demanding government help in their battle to pay debts and a new push on agricultural reform. The demonstrators arrived in trucks from 17 northern provinces and congregated at the city’s Royal Plaza, close to Government House. “They want the government to pay off their debts and to solve problems over agricultural reform,” a police spokesman said. Many Thai farmers are mired in debt after taking out loans to keep their businesses afloat during the country’s economic crisis. Now, they cannot afford to repay the loans. They also want the government to set up and manage new irrigation systems in the provinces. A delegation of farmers was allowed into the Ministry of Agriculture to see top officials. Mass demonstrations involving agricultural workers have become a familiar sight in Bangkok. The agriculture sector has been hard hit by a global oversupply of commodities, aggravated by falling demand at home and in Asia following the 1997 economic crisis. Prices for crucial export crops such as rice, rubber, sugar cane and coffee have been fluctuating, while production output from rival exporters has been increasing.
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