It was a rare incident indeed. In the 41-year history of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Thailand went on record as the first ever host nation to cancel an international summit. The much-anticipated gathering of top leaders from the ten-nation Asean and its six trade partners fell apart under the full glare of the global media.
Hooting horns and yelling slogans, anti-government protesters in crimson T-shirts streamed into the building and through the media centre, astonishing dozens of journalists as they rampaged towards an adjacent building where leaders were holding a luncheon.
However, a group of foreign diplomats’ wives nonchalantly finished their sushi lunch.
Luggage was strewn all over the lobby of the Royal Cliff Beach Resort, as delegates checked out en masse.
"We have to pull out now," said the aide of one Southeast Asian leader, barking orders from a hand-held radio as his 50-member delegation prepared to travel to the nearby airbase.
"Thailand should not have allowed this to happen. How could they have allowed the protesters to go this far? They should have blocked them before they reached here,"
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was not among them as his plane was forced to divert mid-flight en route to the summit.
It was an embarrassing moment for Asean as crucial meetings between its leaders and key regional partners on the global economic crisis were abandoned. The signing of an investment agreement between Asean and China was scuttled, and so were discussions on a regional currency swap fund to help Asian economies.
On the other hand, the chaotic summit provided a close view of the long-standing political division in Thailand. The Pattaya fiasco prompted the reluctant Thai premier to declare state of emergency there to ensure safe passage home for the visiting dignitaries, and later in Bangkok, to put an end to the anti-government protests that turned violent.
The Thai capital was a scene of riots as security forces chased away the red-clad mobs blocking key intersections, throwing molotov cocktails and burning public buses on April 13, the start of an annual Songkran (traditional new year) holidays. The rampages came to an end the following day after the rally site near the government house was cleared, some protesters leaders detained and protesters sent home.
A week later, Thai government it would reschedule the summit in Phuket, a seaside tourist spot in the south. Asean chief Surin Pitsuwan has said the summit would take place no later than early June.