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Demonstrators call on Thai government to delay pesticides ban

[BANGKOK] About 2,000 demonstrators marched to Thailand's Government House on Tuesday to demand a delay in a ban due from Dec 1 on three pesticides, as a dispute over the plan escalates.

The protesters submitted a letter to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha asking for time to assess scientific evidence, the economic impact and whether alternatives are available. Outlawing the chemicals will hurt Thai farmers' competitiveness and imperil millions of jobs, according to the letter.

Thailand plans to prohibit three pesticides -- paraquat, chlorpyrifos and glyphosate -- over health risks under a push by a party in the sprawling coalition government. The move against glyphosate, commonly sold as weedkiller Roundup, has sparked resistance from the US, which has also asked Mr Prayuth to delay to consider scientific evidence.

The party spearheading the ban, Bhum Jai Thai, controls the health and transport ministries. It's one of more than a dozen in the coalition, which has a razor-thin majority in parliament.

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Asked by reporters whether any slip in the Dec 1 deadline would have political ramifications because Bhum Jai Thai ministers could quit, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said he has to put concerns about health first.

‘No Compromise'

"We have to listen to all parties and assess what we can do to create less dispute," Bhum Jai Thai leader Mr Anutin said. "But I'm responsible for the Ministry of Health, and there can be no compromise on any policy that's dangerous for health."

Police on the ground gave rough estimates of the size of the crowd. The demonstration was organized by the Thai Agricultural Innovation Trade Association, the Thai Agro-Business Association and the Thai Crop Protection Association.

Last week, Singapore-based CropLife Asia, a trade group representing pesticide firms, asked Mr Prayuth to delay the ban because of the potential disruption to the agriculture sector.

Glyphosate is banned or restricted in a range of places, such as Vietnam and Austria, and triggered a flurry of lawsuits in the US from people alleging it causes cancer.

About 11 million of Thailand's 69 million people are employed in agriculture. The nation is among the world's top exporters of rice, rubber and sugar.