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Asian leaders eye EU-style bloc

Asean leaders link hands
Officials said the East Asian nations would carry out a feasibility study for a freed trade zone

Asian leaders meeting in Thailand are discussing plans to "lead the world" by forming an EU-style community by 2015.

Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama argued nations should take advantage of the region's more rapid recovery from the recession than the West.

"It would be meaningful for us to have the aspiration that East Asia is going to lead the world," he said.

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are meeting other regional heads at Cha-Am beach resort.

Increased integration

The community would involve the 10-members of Asean with regional partners China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, Japanese officials have said.

Officials said the East Asian nations would carry out a feasibility study for a huge free trade zone.

But there was debate at the summit over whether the community would also include the United States.

Increased integration has been a recurring theme of the meetings in Thailand, as the region seeks to capitalise on its recovery from financial turmoil.

On Friday, the leaders officially launched a new human rights watchdog.

Correspondents say the new commission is in part a response to criticism that the region is soft on human rights abuses by member nations such as Burma.

But observers have queried whether it will have sufficient powers to make a real difference.

Anti-government protesters forced the cancellation of the previous attempt to hold the summit in April.

Around 18,000 troops and dozens of armoured vehicles have been deployed to ensure this summit passes off smoothly - with another 18,000 on standby or on duty in Bangkok.



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