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Political Protests Cast Shadow Over ASEAN Meeting

  • Ron Corben

Thailand's political divisions cast a shadow over the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summits. Supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra breached security cordons near the summit site. Regional leaders plan to spend the next two days focusing on the region's economic outlook.

Thousands of anti-government protesters pushed aside security checkpoints on Friday and advanced to the entrance of the resort where Asian leaders are gathering.

Government hopes to avoid confrontation

Thai officials vow the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit at the resort town of Pattaya will go ahead despite the protest. The government hopes to avoid any violent confrontations with the protesters.

"Security preparations have been made and they are all in place. It is of internationally recognized standards and Thailand is determined that the meeting will go on as planned," said Buranaj Sumtharak, a spokesman for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's Democrat Party.

Thaksin supporters call for PM's resignation

Supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra demand that Mr. Abhisit resign and call new elections. Mr. Thaksin, overthrown in a coup in 2006, has accused advisors to the Thai King of being behind his ouster. He fled Thailand last year in the face of corruption charges.

The protests have cast a cloud over the meeting of the 10 ASEAN leaders and the leaders of Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.

ASEAN summit to focus on financial crisis

The summit, delayed for months because of Thailand's political strife, will focus on regional cooperation in recovering from the global financial crisis. Most Asian nations are expected to see sharply slower growth or fall into recession this year.

"ASEAN has a concept of regional resilience and that links the national resilience with regional stability," said Carl Thayer, a regional security specialist at the Australian National University. "ASEAN leaders of state and government have indicated it has to be fiscal policy that stimulates domestic demand that encourages foreign investment especially in the infrastructure in the region."

Other issues being discussed will be trade, food and energy security, and disaster management.

In Bangkok, about 140 kilometers from the summit, the anti-government protesters on Friday abandoned road blockades that caused traffic chaos in the city on Thursday. However, they planned to continue demonstrating at the main government office building and other locations.

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