Page last updated at 12:44 GMT, Saturday, 11 April 2009 13:44 UK

Thai protests cancel Asian summit


Protesters storm Asia summit venue

A summit of Asian leaders in Thailand has been cancelled after anti-government protesters broke into the venue in the resort of Pattaya.

PM Abhisit Vejjajiva declared an "extreme state of emergency" in Pattaya for several hours while the leaders were airlifted from the area.

The Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) summit was due to have been held on Saturday and Sunday.

Thailand has been in turmoil, with the opposition demanding fresh elections.

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok says Thais have spent months organising the summit, but security around the venue collapsed in a matter of hours as thousands pushed their way through the police cordon.

It is a humiliation for the government, our correspondent says. He adds that it raises questions over whether the deep divisions that have emerged in Thai society are also damaging morale in the police and the army.

'Lorries and taxis'

The Asean meeting, called to discuss the global financial crisis, was due to start on Saturday, concluding on Sunday with a summit due to include India, Australia and New Zealand.

But as the talks were due to get under way in Pattaya, thousands of red-shirted supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra smashed into the media centre adjacent to the conference hall.

I have met with other Asean leaders and have told them my decision and they all understood the situation
Abhisit Vejjajiva
Thai Prime Minister

Later Prime Minister Abhisit said in a statement broadcast live on TV:

"The government has decided to postpone the Asean summit meeting. I have met with other Asean leaders and have told them my decision and they all understood the situation.

"The task for me and the government now is to provide security for the leaders to travel back home safely."

Mr Abhisit later said a state of emergency imposed while the leaders were evacuated had been lifted.

Opposition leader Natthawut Saikua told the protesters that the "war in Pattaya" was over and that they should head back to Bangkok.

"Since we have gained victory, all red-shirted people in Pattaya will return to join the rally in front of Government House," the Nation newspaper quoted him as saying.

A Thai government spokesman, Panitan Wattanayagorn, told the BBC that authorities were investigating why police "were unable to contain the demonstrations".

Protesters overcame police in a matter of hours

Earlier on Saturday, riot police separated the opposition protesters from hundreds of blue-shirted government supporters.

Some government supporters were armed with sticks and bottles and some of the protesters could be seen wielding sticks and at least one knife.

The foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea had to cancel a trilateral session because of the disturbances.

Another meeting - between China and Asean - was postponed after demonstrators prevented the leaders from leaving their hotels.

The meeting would have been the foreign ministers' first opportunity to discuss last Sunday's launch of a North Korean rocket, widely viewed as a long-range missile test.

'Puppet' charge

The Asean summit has already been postponed and relocated because of Thailand's political turmoil.

The country has been in crisis since 2006, when opponents of Mr Thaksin led a campaign of protests, culminating in his removal by the military.

But protests by the anti-Thaksin Peoples' Alliance for Democracy (PAD) continued as allies of the former PM continued to dominate successive coalition governments.

The PAD, a loose grouping of royalists, businessmen and the urban middle class, accuses Mr Thaksin of nepotism and corruption during his time in power.

Mr Abhisit came to power in December last year, after a court ruled that the previous government was illegal.

Mr Thaksin now lives in exile. His supporters in the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) accuse Mr Abhisit of being a puppet of the military.

They say he should resign so fresh elections can be held.


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