12/13/2021, 00.00
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Seen as an environmental threat, Chana project draws thousands to protest in Bangkok

by Steve Suwannarat

Backed by Prayut Chan-ocha, the mega-project includes a smart city with port facilities in a southern region that is home to 30,000 people, mostly farmers and fishermen. The protest in the Muslim-majority southern provinces is fuelled by what critics call Bangkok’s colonial policies towards the area.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thousands of people are back in the streets today in Bangkok, this time led by environmental organisations and civic groups that oppose the Chana industrial estate project, planned for the southern city of Songkhla.

The rally comes as Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, a former army general, is set to order the reopening the border with Malaysia for year-end holidays. The aim is to revive border tourism as well as trade, essential for the country.

The protest, largely made up of people who arrived overnight from the south, is scheduled to start at the United Nations headquarters and then move to the nearby government headquarters. It follows the failure to halt the project pending a sustainability study.

The authorities urged people not to gather in the target areas because of COVID-19. However, anticipating the protest, the police threw up barricades, and deployed anti-riot units around the area. The ministers involved in the project are expected to meet today.

Approved in May 2019 as the final decision by the military junta in power since the coup of May 2014, the Chana project envisages the development of an area of ​​2,560 hectares in an area inhabited today by 30,000 people, mostly fishermen and small farmers.

The project, which would draw about 100,000 workers to Chana to build a smart city equipped with energy systems, port infrastructures and light industries, has met with strong   opposition.

In addition to legitimate doubts about the usefulness of such a mega-industrial project, locals are dissatisfied with a government that has brough few benefits to the area in the recent past.

The central government has also been accused of pursuing colonial policies towards a region that includes four Muslim-majority provinces, which are close to neighbouring Malaysia in terms of religion, customs and language.

A previous protest, on 6 December, led to the arrest under emergency rules of 37 elderly people from the villages where the industrial complex is supposed to be built.

Although they were released the next day, also under pressure from the UN officials, their arrest caused resentment and strengthened the local resolve to stop the project.

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