Protestors storm ASEAN summit venue
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A summit between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China was postponed indefinitely after thousands of Thai anti-government protestors stormed the building. A state of emergency has been declared in Pattaya.
AFP - Thousands of Thai anti-government protesters smashed their way into a summit of Asian leaders Saturday, forcing the country's embattled government to postpone the entire meeting indefinitely.
Thai Prime Minister 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.
Red-shirted supporters loyal to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra breached police lines, broke down glass doors and streamed through the media centre of the hotel hosting the meeting to push their demands for Abhisit's resignation.
Troops made no attempt to stop the protesters despite promises of high-level security by Abhisit, who has been trying to show that his four-month-old government can cure Thailand's long-running political crisis.
"ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) leaders have reached the consensus that the meeting has to be postponed for the security of leaders," Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said.
Protesters said they would remain inside the hotel until Abhisit resigns and said they stormed the building in response to the wounding of three supporters in earlier clashes with pro-government demonstrators.
"We will stay until Abhisit quits," Pichet Sukjindatong, one of the protest leaders, told AFP.
"We are looking for him in this building so we can tell him to his face that he has to go. The Red Shirts have been asking him to resign for four months and we decided that now was the time to push him," he said.
Hooting horns and chanting slogans, they toppled metal detectors, smashed reception tables and left behind small polls of blood where some had been injured by glass as they rushed into the hotel.
A masked protester, Anupong Pong, said that the so-called Red Shirts were angered by the injuries to their supporters in the earlier clashes.
"Before we were prepared to be peaceful but now we want Abhisit to punish the people who are responsible," he said.
Soldiers scrambled to block the entrance to the adjacent building where the leaders and delegates were meeting.
About 100 demonstrators reached the driveway of a luncheon meeting among the ASEAN leaders. Staff were forced to bustle hotel guests -- including a bikini-clad female tourist -- away from restaurants and the poolside.
The anti-government protesters had 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.
The summit groups ASEAN leaders plus their counterparts from China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
Abhisit has repeatedly resisted calls to step down despite days of anti-government protests, both in Bangkok and at the summit.
His nemesis Thaksin, a billionaire populist who still has a loyal following among the country's poor but is loathed by the Bangkok elite, was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and is living in exile to avoid a jail term for graft.