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Protest called off at Asean Summit

PATTAYA, 10 April 2009: The protest mounted by thousands of demonstrators from the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra “Red Shirts” at the 14th Asean Summit has fizzled out after they handed a petition that demanded the ouster of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

A group of eight demonstrators from the “Red Shirts” came through the security cordon at the Pattaya Exhibition and Convention Hall, the summit venue, and handed the petition to the Asean Secretariat’s P Bala Kumar.

They asked him to hand it over to the foreign leaders attending the summit.

Originally, they demanded to see a representative from a foreign delegation to hand over the petition. Initial indications were that they asked for Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is Asean deputy chair.

The demonstration, which began before noon today, ended at about 5.10pm.

Abhisit later told a media conference that he had not seen the petition as it was handed over to an Asean Secretariat representative.

“But I think it’s the same content as the petititon given to Asean embassies in January. I hope there will be no more disruption to the meeting,” said Abhisit, who vowed to take stern action against the protesters through legal means.

He said all the 15 foreign leaders would attend the Summit despite the protests, adding that he supported any demonstration that aimed to strengthen the country’s democracy.

Asked if it was an embarrassment for Thailand, Abhisit said similar incidents happened during the recent G-20 meeting in London and they were splashed all over the front pages of newspapers there.

Asean secretary-general Dr Surin Pitsuwan said he was happy that the protesters finally agreed to leave and hoped they would not return tomorrow.

“We will keep to our promise to hand over the documents to the participating leaders,” he said.

The drama began at about 4pm when the demonstrators who had been shouting slogans like “We want democracy” outside the summit venue demanded that they be allowed in.

After a stand-off with security personnel who included soldiers, they then negotiated with Pattaya Mayor Ittipol Kumpleum and were finally allowed in to hand over the petition.

“Red Shirts” spokesperson Sean Boongracong said that among others, they wanted Abhisit and three Privy Councillors to resign for undermining the country’s democracy.

Asked if they would return Saturday, Sean said the protest leaders would decide later.

Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s entourage which arrived at 4.05pm at the nearby Utapao Airport, managed to enter the summit venue by using a side road.

Earlier, Malaysian Foreign Ministry secretary-general Tan Sri Rastam Isa expressed confidence that the Thai government would be able to provide adequate security to host the summit.

The “Red Shirts”, who had started their demonstrations in Bangkok with more than 100,000 protesters on Wednesday, crippled the Thai capital yesterday when they blockaded several key intersections.

They ended the road blockade today and returned to the Government House where they have been protesting since 26 March.

The Government House, which is the Prime Minister’s Office, experienced a blockade for three months last year by anti-Thaksin protesters known as the “Yellow Shirts”.

The “Red Shirts” demonstrators, who are aligned with former premier Thaksin, have described their actions as a legitimate exercise against an illegitimate government.

They carried several posters which described Abhisit as a dictator and declared that he was not the Thai prime minister.

Another poster screamed “Prime Minister Thaksin Come Back, You Are The Best PM”.

Abhisit, the British-born Eton and Oxford-educated politician, became prime minister in December last year while Thaksin became prime minister in 2001 before he was ousted in a military coup in 2006. — Bernama

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