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December 14, 2008

Asean Summit:
Thai minister to chair FM meeting in Jakarta Monday

Thailand will send its information and communication technology minister to chair a special foreign ministers' meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Monday in Jakarta, Kyodo news agency quoted Foreign Ministry officials as saying Saturday.

Mun Patanotai was named to chair the meeting for Thailand because he is among only a few Cabinet members who are not members of parliament.

The Thai lower house of parliament is to convene a special session Monday to elect a new prime minister, the third since the general elections in December last year.

Thailand has been the rotational Asean chairman since July and it wants to retain the chairmanship through 2009.

On Monday, the 10 Asean countries will celebrate the Asean Charter's entry into force and the ministers will also have a 90-minute discussion hoping to find a convenient date for Asean leaders to hold their annual summit.

The Charter binds the region together as a community with shared common visions on politics, economic and social values.

But the recent political turbulence in Thailand has jeopardised Bangkok's chairmanship and the plan to host the annual Asean summits and related meetings with leaders from Japan, China, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The meetings had been set for next week but the Thai government led by the now banned People Power Party was facing serious, long-running protests and occupations of government buildings and sites.

A court ruling December 2 unseated Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and left the Cabinet as simply caretakers.

Bangkok had already abandoned the idea of hosting the Asean meetings in Bangkok and changed the venue to Chiang Mai to avoid the embarrassing antigovernment protests.

On Friday, the Thai Foreign Ministry reaffirmed it plans to host the Asean summits at the earliest dates possible once a new government is able to fully perform its duties, possibly in the first week of February.

Vitavas Srivihok, head of the Foreign Ministry's Asean Affairs Department, said Thailand would not let any other Asean member country host the summits.

He said Thailand would be unable to continue as the Asean chair only if there were to be a military coup, which would be against the democratic principles in the Asean Charter.

Also Friday, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, expected to be a candidate for premier, said that if he wins the parliamentary election to lead a new coalition government, he would put Asean issues on the national agenda, according to Vitavas who met with Abhisit, who is now the opposition leader.

After a parliamentary process electing a premier, it will take another week or so to name a Cabinet and the administration can formally begin working only after a policy statement is declared to the House of Representatives.

That process is likely to take until the third week of January, according to Vitavas.

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