Asian summit cancelled after venue stormed


Thai protesters storm Asean summit in Pattaya, Thailand

Thousands of Thai anti-government protesters smashed their way into a summit of Asian leaders, forcing the country’s embattled government to postpone the entire meeting indefinitely.

Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency in the resort of Pattaya after chaos erupted at the summit, which was supposed to discuss the global financial crisis and North Korea’s rocket launch.

However, the state of emergency was lifted later tonight after top Asian leaders, including Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, left the city safely and the protesters have since retreated.

Choppers airlifted dignitaries from the roof of the luxury hotel venue after the red-shirted supporters of ousted Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra breached police lines, broke down glass doors and streamed into the building unopposed.

The indefinite postponement of the summit piles more pressure on British-born Abhisit, who has pledged that his four-month-old government will heal years of political turmoil since Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup.

“The government has a duty to take care of the leaders, who will depart from Thailand,” Abhisit said in a sombre nationwide address broadcast live across all Thai television channels.

The meeting – the biggest international gathering since the G20 summit in London – grouped the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Protesters said they had run out of patience with Abhisit’s refusal to bow to their demands for his resignation, and that they were angry at the wounding of three supporters in earlier clashes with pro-government rivals.

“The ‘Red Shirts’ have been asking him to resign for four months and we decided that now was the time to push him,” Pichet Sukjindatong, one of the protest leaders, told AFP.

Hooting horns and triumphantly chanting slogans, anti-government protesters decked out in red pushed past lines of troops who carried shields and batons but offered little resistance.

They toppled metal detectors, smashed reception tables and left behind small pools of blood where some had been injured by glass.

About 100 demonstrators reached the driveway of an adjacent building where the Asean leaders where having a luncheon.

Staff were forced to bustle hotel guests – including a bikini-clad female tourist – away from restaurants and the poolside.

“Asean leaders have reached the consensus that the meeting has to be postponed for the security of leaders,” Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said.

Several foreign leaders including Philippine President Gloria Arroyo and Abhisit himself were later airlifted to a nearby military airbase where emergency planes were on standby, AFP reporters said.

Other top Asian leaders who are Thailand for the summit including Najib, his first official overseas trip as the new Malaysian prime minister, were able to get out of the besieged hotel safely.

Australian PM in mid-air when chaos erupted

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was in mid-air when the chaos erupted, forcing him to turn around and head for home after a refuelling stop.

The demonstrators soon dispersed and within hours all the visiting leaders had been evacuated. Abhisit made a surprise return to the summit venue late today to say the state of emergency had been lifted.

“We apologise to the Thai people that this incident happened. Even though the government was not responsible, it is its duty to ensure the meeting runs smoothly,” he said after being escorted in by scores of soldiers.

Officials did not say if or when the summit would resume – it has already been postponed and shifted to new venues several times in an attempt to dodge the protest threat.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who had been due to attend the talks Sunday, led expressions of regret.

“I hope for an early restoration of normalcy in Thailand and for the settlement of differences through dialogue and peaceful means,” he said.

Political commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak said the protest movement had seriously undermined Abhisit’s troubled administration and showed there was no end in sight to months of political drama.

“Their goal is to make the government unable to function – I think certainly they have done that today,” said the analyst from Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

Blue Shirts vs Red Shirts

The so-called Red Shirts had earlier clashed with pro-government rivals armed with sticks and bottles, forcing the morning’s agenda to be scrapped, including Asean meetings with the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea.

The three East Asian leaders remained in their hotels elsewhere in Pattaya.

There was confusion over which side the injured demonstrators came from and who attacked them.

Protest leader Arismun Pongreungrong said his Red Shirts had been fired on by the rival demonstrators, whom he accused of being security forces in disguise.

“We found 500 blue shirts behind army checkpoints with used bullet casings, handmade bombs and sticks,” Arismun, a former pop singer, said at a press conference in the hotel lobby.

Oxford-educated Abhisit has repeatedly resisted calls to step down despite days of escalating anti-government protests both in Bangkok and at the summit.

He came to power in a parliamentary vote in December after a court ruling toppled Thaksin’s allies from government – a development that came after anti-Thaksin protesters occupied Bangkok’s two airports for more than a week.

His nemesis Thaksin, a billionaire populist who still has a loyal following among the country’s poor but is loathed by the Bangkok elite, is living in exile to avoid a jail term for graft.

One Response

  1. Statement from National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (red shirt) in Thailand

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