Thai rail strike strands thousands

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BANGKOK, Oct 31 (Reuters) Thousands of rail passengers were stranded in Thailand today after trade unions called a nationwide strike to protest against a trade pact they said would allow Japanese firms to bid for rail service contracts.

About 2,000 passengers on nine south-bound trains were transferred to buses after their carriages stopped 800 km (500 miles) south of the Thai capital, officials said.

''The strike forced State Rail of Thailand to cancel our daily southern schedule of 18 trains to and from Bangkok, which will affect two to three thousand passengers a day,'' Tanongsak Pongprasert, director of southern train services, told Reuters.

Another 12 trains carrying 1,000 passengers per day in the south were also cancelled, he said.

The strike also halted seven trains in the north, northern service director Surin Piaprasert said. Supichet Suwanchatree, head of State Rail of Thailand's southern branch, told reporters the strike was to urge the government to stop the liberalisation of the logistics industry, which would have an impact on the debt-ridden rail monopoly.

But a Commerce Ministry official told Reuters the rail union had misunderstood the Japanese-Thai Economic Partnership Agreement due to come into effect tomorrow.

''There's no direct link between JTEPA and privatisation of state enterprises. Someone may try to turn this into a political issue,'' said the official, who declined to be identified.

REUTERS SYU HS1034

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