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January 8, 2009

14th Asean Summit:
Protest threats force Thai govt to move meeting venue to beach town

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Wednesday he had decided to move the venue of a regional summit to a resort town 200 km from the capital to avoid disruption by anti-government protesters, reported Reuters.

Abhisit told reporters the former fishing village of Hua Hin, 125 miles southwest of Bangkok, was the best venue to host the summit of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) from February 27 to March 1.

"It has the best environment that should provide a smooth summit," he said. The beachside town is also the habitual home of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Abhisit acknowledged that threatened street protests were behind the decision to switch the venue from Bangkok.

Thailand holds the rotating chair of Asean and the summit had been planned for December, but protests against the previous government caused it to be postponed.

The new dates do not fit the schedule of Asean 's regional "dialogue partners" -- namely China, Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand -- so a second, separate meeting would be held in late April to accommodate them, Abhisit said.

The Hua Hin summit would be limited to only the 10 Asean leaders, while follow-up meetings with dialogue partners, including the East Asia Summit, would be held in April, local English-language daily The Nation reported.

The government decided to separate the meeting into two parts because key partner China was busy with the National People's Congress meeting late next month.

Dialogue partners from Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand will also have to wait until April to meet with Asean.

The date and venue of the summit has been changed more than once, due to internal political chaos and leaders' tight schedules.

It was originally supposed to be held about the middle of last month but postponed after People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protesters shut down Suvarnnabhumi and Don Muang airports in late November, to protest the previous government.

The anti-government Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship (DAAD) has threatened to use the same tactic to obstruct the Asean Summit. Known locally as red shirts, the anti-government protesters said they would follow the meeting to Hua Hin.

Officials from Asean members have complained about the inconvenience of the summit venue being 200 kilometres from the capital. Leaders will have to travel by road, since the airfield there is not big enough to accommodate large aircraft.

Asean groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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