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Arichsaman Pongrungrong, red shirt bigger than the Asean Summit

Protest Wrecks Asean: State of Emergency Called

Friday, April 10, 2009
Saturday Update: Photo Album Above

STATE of emergency lifted Saturday evening.

PRIME MINISTER Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency in Pattaya and Chon Buri province at 1.45pm today follow the takeover and cancellation of the Asean plus Six Summit.

Under the terms of the State of Emergency, tourists cannot gather for Songkran in groups of more than five people. Parties, dinners are banned.

Tourism in Thailand is once again in a state of disorder. US navy vessels, due to allow crew shore leave, had to cancel. The devastating effect on tourism in Pattaya will be tallied up over the next few days.

Phuket missed out on holding the Asean Summit because the right kind of accommodation could not be found at Songkran. Now tourism chiefs in Phuket must be heaving a sigh of relief.

This morning about 1000 red shirt protesters invaded the Royal Cliff Beach Resort, forcing the cancellation of the first day off the three-day summit of 16 nations.

The protesters rampaged through the resort, waving flags and clicking foot-clappers.

Their leader, Arichsaman Pongrungrong, told the media that the protesters would hold the resort until the PM delivered to them someone responsible for shooting and wounding a taxi driver in Bangkok earlier today.

He set the deadline of one hour for the PM to find and deliver the person. At 1.45pm the PM responded by declaring a state of emergency.

The PM said his first task was to make sure the other leaders left the country safely.

He put control of the state of emergency, limited to Pattaya and Chonburi province, into the hands of deputy PM Suthep Thueksuban.

Another Asean Summit could take two or three months to organise because all the leaders had other commitments, the PM said. In its history, no Asean summit had ever had to be cancelled.

There were reports at one stage earlier today that the leaders of China and Korea had been trapped in the resort by the protesters.

Television footage showed them moving freely through the resort, waving banners and taking photos.

With the Asean summit involving 16 world leaders thrown into chaos, Thailand's reputation as a peaceful destination for tourists now remains extremely uncertain.

Red shirt protesters reportedly scuffled with locals this morning to break through the cordon around the Asean summit resort. Some accounts said there were petrol bombs and firecrackers among the scuffles.

Friday Update

PROTEST leaders agreed to call off the Victory Monument blockade from 5pm Friday to concentrate on Pattaya. They said protests would resume in Bangkok after Songkran. At least 200 protesters broke through police lines to get within 50 metres of the Pattaya hotel, where the weekend summit brings together the 10 Asean member nations with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. About 10pm on Friday, the protest was abandoned for the night.

Original Report

PRIME MINISTER Abhisit Vejjajiva made a televised national address last night and declared today a public holiday to lessen the impact of a protest that has shut down parts of Bangkok.

The blocking of roads by red-shirt supporters of disgraced former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, especially around the Victory Monument, plunged traffic into gridlock in parts of the capital yesterday.

With the weekend summit of Asean Plus Six leaders scheduled to proceed in Pattaya from today, the turbulent political situation in Thailand will be making international news around the world.

PM Abhisit told Thailand last night that the number of people in yesterday's gridlock protest was well down on the mass protest of the previous day.

The government intended to impose the law on those who continued to make trouble through the now-extended six-day Songkran holiday break.

''The government is aware that the remaining protesters want to incite confrontation and violence with the aim of causing a riot,'' he said.

In what now seems to be a brazen last-ditch attempt to regain power by brute force if necessary, Khun Thaksin, in self-imposed exile outside Thailand, urged supporters to travel to the capital.

''All roads will lead to Bangkok and I'll be there with you,'' he was quoted as saying.

''We won't retreat. The only way is forward. If the government uses force to suppress the protesters who come in peace, we will rise up.''

It is expected that the parked taxis blocking movement around the Victory Monument will be removed today, the opening of the Asean summit in Pattaya.

So far planning for the gathering has not been curtailed by the protests, and last night's declaration of a national holiday may defuse the tension on the streets in Bangkok.

It was anticipated, however, that businesses in many parts of the country would open and operate as normal today, even with government offices now closed.

Travel warnings have yet to be upgraded but media reports may lead some tourists to change their Songkran-Easter holiday plans at the last minute.

Phuket is not affected and, as a government yellow-shirt stronghold, flights in and out of the island are expected to continue without interruption.

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