Protesters threaten Asian summit

April 9, 2009 12:00 am

, BANGKOK, Apr 9 – Thai protesters threatened Thursday to shut down a summit of Asian leaders this weekend, opening up a new front on the second day of mass street rallies against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Abhisit’s four-month-old government faces its biggest challenge after more than 100,000 loyal supporters of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra gathered in the capital Wednesday to demand that he quit office and call fresh elections.

Police said about 25,000 protesters were left early Thursday outside the house of a royal aide whom they accuse of orchestrating the 2006 coup that toppled Thaksin, and at Abhisit’s office and Bangkok’s royal plaza.

The demonstrators later vowed to shut down the coastal resort of Pattaya, where leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and partners including China and Japan are due to meet, if Abhisit stays on.

"If we have to shut down the whole town (of Pattaya) then we have to and it’s a warning to friendly countries that the meeting may not happen," protest leader Nattawut Saikuar told reporters in Bangkok.

The summit has already been postponed from December, when protesters opposed to the previous, pro-Thaksin government shut down Bangkok’s airports in a major blow to Thailand’s economy and its international prestige.

Those protests ended when a court forced Thaksin’s allies from government, allowing British-born Abhisit to come to power but triggering a furious reaction from the billionaire’s supporters.

Security has been on high alert for the April 10-12 summit in Pattaya since Thaksin’s so-called "Red Shirts" attacked Abhisit’s motorcade in the city on Tuesday, smashing one of its windows.

"It’s clear that Abhisit is unlikely to quit so we have to intensify our campaign further… We have to do what Thaksin said. We should not return home with empty hands," said another protest leader, Jatuporn Prompan.

Abhisit rejected their demands and reassured foreign leaders there would be no further disruption to the summit.

"I will not resign," he told reporters in Bangkok.

"This is not the game; they cannot play like this… If they are sincere the government is open to political reform."

In Bangkok, hundreds of protesters later fanned out towards the headquarters of Abhisit’s Democrat Party, the Constitutional Court and the Foreign Ministry.

In one lone incident early Thursday a woman appeared to drive her car at protesters before escaping, causing one minor injury, but the protests in the capital have so far been peaceful.

The "Red Shirts" have issued a 24-hour ultimatum for the resignation of former premier General Prem Tinsulanonda, the top adviser to the king, and two other members of the privy council.

The finger-pointing at the king’s inner circle broke a major taboo in Thailand, where the monarchy is revered, and fuelled the risk of what Abhisit described this week as a civil war.

Thaksin gave a speech to the protest rally via video link after nightfall Wednesday, urging his loyal supporters to keep the protest going.

"All brothers, can you wait for just three days? Invite all of your friends and relatives to come here. Teenagers, stop wandering in the shopping mall… your future is here," he told the crowd.

The nation remains deeply divided between Thaksin’s mainly poor followers and his foes in Bangkok’s traditional power centres of the palace, military and bureaucracy.


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