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December 2, 2008

14th Asean Summit:
Regional meet postponed until March 2009

Thailand postponed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional summit Tuesday until March because of ongoing political turmoil that has shut down the capital's two airports, reported the Associated Press.

The December 12-17 Asean meeting, which was initially scheduled to take place in the capital Bangkok, was shifted last month to the northern city of Chiang Mai.

Anti-government protesters have besieged the prime minister's office compound in Bangkok since August and last week moved thousands of protesters to Bangkok's two main airports, shutting down air transport to the Thai capital.

"The Cabinet agreed to cancel the Asean meeting until March because of the political turbulence in Thailand," said government spokesman Nattawut Sai-Kua. As the current chair of Asean, Thailand was to host the grouping's annual summit.

The government's announcement came shortly after the Constitutional Court in Bangkok dissolved the three biggest parties in the ruling coalition and banned Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from politics for five years.

The ruling sinks Somchai's coalition government, made up of six parties, and raises hopes that protesters seeking the government's ouster will end their siege of the country's two main airports.

Several Asean members publicly raised concerns earlier in the week that Thailand's ongoing political turmoil could force the meeting's cancellation.

Earlier, Indonesia offered to step in to host some Southeast Asian ministerial meetings, Reuters quoted President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as saying Monday.

Indonesia and Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan were offering to hold the foreign ministers' meeting of the 10-member Southeast Asian bloc and three East Asian dialogue partners in the Asean Secretariat offices in Jakarta, Yudhoyono said. A finance ministers meeting could be held in Bali, he added.

"Those events are important to officially introduce the Asean Charter and formulate joint action to overcome the global financial crisis," Yudhoyono told a news conference.

In Thailand, thousands of members of the protest alliance have taken over the main Suvarnabhumi international airport and the domestic Don Muang airport for about a week, cutting off all commercial traffic to the capital and stranding more than 300,000 foreign travelers here.

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