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5 May 2009

Thailand promises protest-free summit

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Thai soldiers and police will enforce a 5-km "no rally" zone around Asian leaders next month to prevent another disruption at a regional summit it has been trying to host for five months, Reuters quoted officials as saying Monday.

The East Asia Summit, tentatively scheduled for June 13-14 on the tourist island of Phuket, was cancelled on April 11 when anti-government protesters invaded the venue in the beach resort of Pattaya, about 150 km south of Bangkok. The disruption was a huge embarrassment for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

"That incident was a mistake. We will make sure the meeting restores confidence in Thailand," Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters after outlining security measures to diplomats from countries attending the summit, including a 5 km zone around the venue within which rallies will be banned.

The venue, a luxury hotel on the island located more than 860 km from the capital, will be guarded by soldiers, police and security personnel from the Interior Ministry.

"The people of Phuket pledged to me that there would be no rally during the meeting," said Prawit, who promised to take action against any "outsiders" who try to disrupt the meeting.

Phuket is a stronghold of Abhisit's Democrat Party, which heads a four-month-old coalition government struggling to revive an economy hobbled by the global economic downturn and prolonged political strife at home.

Abhisit was forced to impose emergency rule in Bangkok for 12 days to quell street protests by red-shirted supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

The pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship , an extra-parliamentary group, has vowed to continue its fight for new elections, but the group has not threatened to lay siege to the Phuket summit.

Leaders from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations and China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand were to discuss the global financial crisis at the April meeting.

A Thai official said the June 13-14 dates would be discussed by member countries at a senior officials' meeting in Indonesia this week.

The East Asia Summit in Thailand was first abandoned in December after a pro-Thaksin government faced street protests by the yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy , which culminatede in the occupation of Bangkok's two main airports.

Abhisit's government, which came to power in December through parliamentary defections that the pro-Thaksin camp says were engineered by the army, rescheduled the East Asia meeting for April hoping it would restore Thailand's tattered image.

But the Pattaya summit descended into chaos when Thaksin supporters broke through police lines and invaded the venue, forcing some foreign leaders to be evacuated by helicopter.





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