BANGKOK, Feb. 18 (Xinhua) -- Thai caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Tuesday attributed the government's delay in making overdue payments to farmers under the rice-pledging scheme to prolonged anti-government protests.
Protest leaders have been taking advantage of rice farmers in their political game to oust the government, Yingluck said in a televised speech.
Yingluck urged protest leaders to sympathize with the farmers, who have worked hard to feed the country, and stop using them.
The caretaker government is endeavoring to raise money, either by selling stockpiled rice or by seeking loans from financial institutions, Yingluck said, adding the rice-pledging schemes had benefited the farmers since its implementation.
The Yingluck government started buying rice from farmers at above-market prices in 2011 to shore up rural incomes, fulfilling a campaign pledge by the Pheu Thai Party, which won a parliamentary majority that year.
The Pheu Thai Party has claimed the project had benefited some 3.26 million farming families since its implementation. But the scheme has spurred the buildup of record reserves and helped to dethrone the country as the world's largest exporter.
Currently, the caretaker government owes about 130 billion baht (4 billion U.S. dollars) to around 1 million farmers nationwide.
Hundreds of Thai farmers on Monday broke into the compound of the Office of the Defense Permanent Secretary to seek a meeting with Yingluck, who has been working there temporarily. But Yingluck did not show up.