Protests force summit cancellation, prompt state of emergency

The Thai government declared a state of emergency in the resort of Pattaya on Saturday, after anti-government protestors stormed the ASEAN summit venue. The summit was postponed indefinitely as leaders were evacuated.


AFP - Thai protesters smashed their way into a major Asian summit on Saturday, forcing the country's embattled prime minister to cancel the meeting and evacuate foreign leaders by helicopter.

Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency in the resort of Pattaya after thousands of demonstrators stormed the summit, which was supposed to focus on the financial crisis and North Korea's rocket launch.

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 polls 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.

Officials did not say if or when the summit would resume.

"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.

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.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning