PHUKET: Businesspeople blocked beach road in Patong tonight for more than two hours in a protest at the ''corruption'' of Tourist Police.
The protesters want three Tourist Police officers to apologise at a meeting on Monday, hand back 20,000 baht and then be transferred out of Patong.
Beach road was blocked near the police box from 5.15pm until 8.10pm, forcing officers to keep Soi Bangla open to vehicular traffic instead of as usual being converted to a tourist walking street from 6pm.
Three cars prevented motorists heading in the Kalim/Kamala direction. Senior police attempted to negotiate the removal of the blockade, without success.
Weerawit Kuresombut, head of the Entertainment Association of Patong, said that businesspeople in Patong had grown used to certain levels of corruption but the Tourist Police were taking it to unacceptable levels.
He told Phuketwan that last month, Immigration officers had sought payments three times from a Thai businessman who employed a foreigner illegally. This month, three Tourist Police collected 20,000 baht from the same businessman.
''But we've had enough,'' Khun Weerawit said. ''When a group went to the Tourist Police office in Patong tonight to talk to the officers, they closed up shop. The businesspeople decided, 'You close your office, we'll close the road.''
The blockade attract plenty of local attention and people now know that the Tourist Police are no less incorruptible than other people in uniforms.
Khun Weerawit said: ''Small money is ok, but we won't be pushed too far. This was over the top. How many people do we need to collect from us?''
It's reckoned that 17 different organisations all take corrupt money from various Patong businesses, with corruption fees one of the reasons why Patong is less competitive as a destination. Prices are pushed higher by graft.
Tourist Police and businesspeople are to meet at Kathu Police Station, which oversees Patong, on Monday with the businesspeople insisting they want the 20,000 baht back and the three officers involved to leave Patong.
The Tourist Police headquarters are based in Yaowarat Road, Phuket City, on the other side of the island.