Pattaya, Thailand: Thai troops repelled anti-government protesters at a resort hosting an Asian summit on Friday as leaders began arriving for a meeting meant to focus on the global financial crisis.
Hundreds of troops guarded an entrance to the Royal Cliff Beach Resort in Pattaya, about 150 km (90 miles) south of Bangkok, and fended off at least one attempt to break through.
But tensions eased considerably after an official from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) came out of the hotel to accept a letter from a protest leader. They had threatened to storm the summit venue if their demand was not met.
“We don’t want any Thai officials to accept this letter because this is an illegitimate government and it was not elected by the people,” protest leader Arismun Tongreungrong told reporters.
Several thousand “red-shirt” supporters of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had marched with little police resistance to the summit venue to demand the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
They say his government is illegitimate because he came to power in December through parliamentary defections allegedly engineered by the army.
The protesters began retreating from the hotel complex after delivering their letter, but said they would be back on Saturday, when prime ministers and other top leaders from 16 Asian countries are scheduled to meet.
“We have resolved the issue and there won’t be any more disruption, and I think that’s the expectation of the demonstrators,” ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan said.
Later, however, stick-wielding pro-government demonstrators hurled rocks over riot troops at the anti-Abhisit protesters at a road intersection a few hundred metres from the summit venue.
Protests in Bangkok — around 100,000 assembled in a sea of red around Abhisit’s office on Wednesday — and now Pattaya are aimed at undercutting his government as it hosts the prestigious summit of Asian leaders.
In Bangkok, protesters lifted roadblocks that snarled traffic in the capital on Thursday and regrouped around Government House, waiting to see if there was a crackdown in Pattaya.
Thaksin, now in exile, was ousted in a 2006 coup. His reconstituted party, however, regained power after elections, which sparked months of protests last year that closed airports in Bangkok and took a huge toll on the economy.
Concern about tension
Southeast Asian foreign ministers “expressed concern” about tensions in Northeast Asia during a meeting on politics and security on Friday, Surin said when asked if the issue of North Korea’s rocket launch last week had been discussed.
“That kind of development is not going to help the region in our efforts to find solutions to other more pressing problems ... that would strengthen our region to serve as a strong pillar of recovery and growth,” he told reporters.
The rocket launch is expected to come up in the meetings, starting on Saturday.
The East Asia Summit brings together the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand for discussions mainly about trade and economic issues.
The summit itself takes place on Sunday and will focus on regional responses to the global financial crisis. The leaders will also be briefed by the head of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and the Asian Development Bank.
The meeting would follow up on some issues discussed at last week’s Group of 20 meeting in London.
The leaders will put the final touches on a foreign currency pool among Japan, China, South Korea and the 10 ASEAN countries aimed at shielding their currencies from speculative attacks and capital flight, Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvatsaid said.
They will also discuss trade, food and energy security and disaster management.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.