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ASEAN Summit  Host Laos Ready for Grand Debut


The secretive, communist country of Laos is ready for its grand debut onto the world stage as it hosts the 10th annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit on Monday and Tuesday.

This ASEAN summit is the largest event the impoverished nation of 5.7 million people has ever tried to host. It is being seen as Laos' attempt to open up to the region and the world after decades of isolation.

The arrival of some 3,000 ASEAN delegates, journalists, and 16 heads of state has stretched the resources of this tiny landlocked nation. But most residents here feel the sacrifices are worth it.

Vannasine - a stall owner at the Morning Market in downtown Vientiane which is filled with silks, wooden carvings, and jewelry - says most people are excited to see the visitors, and welcome the added revenue they bring.

"We try to make best welcome to Laos, because Laos, the first time for them [to visit], so everyone [is] excited, waiting for that they coming...also Laos [people] have the income more," said Vannasine.

Laos, which joined ASEAN in 1997, is proud to be hosting the heads of the 10 member countries as well as Australia, China, India, South Korea, Japan, and New Zealand.

It has downplayed unrest and denied eyewitness reports of two small blasts at an unused government facility Thursday evening outside of Vientiane.

Laos has been shaken by a series of small bombings the government blames on "bandits" - a term authorities often use to describe ethnic Hmong rebels who have been fighting in remote regions of the country since the Communist Party took control in 1975.

Still security has been boosted with police visible everywhere. Citizens have been ordered to wear traditional dress during the summit meetings to make a good impression.

Jules Flor, a French national working for an international aid organization in Savannakhet, 480 kilometers south of Vientiane, complains about the arrangements but says the event is still good for Laos.

"Even in Savannakhet, far, far away from Vientiane, you cannot go out after 10:30, you have to wear sin, … it's like there's no more freedom, you know, just to welcome some delegation from foreign countries, they stuck the whole country," said Jules Flor. "But otherwise it's a really good thing to show that Laos is a country that can organize big events."

To underscore just how tightly Vientiane's resources have been stretched, tourists have been banned from the capital until the summit closes to make room for all the ASEAN delegates.

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