Protest calls on government to ?help local retailers?
Two hundred Thai shopkeepers have today defied martial law in the country to stage a protest against expansion plans by foreign retailers such as Tesco.

The protestors marched through Bangkok this morning, despite a ban on such demonstrations in the wake of last month's military coup in the country.

The shopkeepers - led by a body called the Federation of Thais Opposing Foreign Retailers - were to hand a letter to new military-backed prime minister Surayud Chulanont.

In the letter, seen by newswire AFX, the protestors called on the government to close foreign-owned outlets that had opened in Thailand after the September 19 coup.

It added that 'express markets' had been opening in smaller markets and driving local shop owners out of business.

'We expect the new government under the coup leaders to help local retailers,' the letter said.

The Thai Commerce Ministry estimates that 100,000 small shops have been forced to close as a direct result of expansion by international retailers.

The protest followed months of arguments between the Thai authorities, local shopkeepers and international supermarket chains such as France's Carrefour and the US's Seven Eleven.

However, the shopkeepers have targeted Tesco due to its decision not to follow suit with other foreign retailers and agree to a suspension of store openings until the end of October.

According to reports, today's marchers were carrying banners that read Stop Tesco's Expansion and We Don't Need Tesco.

Tesco plans to double the number of its smaller outlets in the country to 200 by the end of the year.

The British retailer said that it was working closely with the Thai government.