The ASEAN+6 summit scheduled over the weekend at Pattaya, Thailand, was abruptly cancelled when hundreds of red-shirted protesters broke into the summit site, successfully forcing their way past thousands of soldiers and policemen in riot gear.
About half of the leaders were immediately evacuated by helicopter, including those of Vietnam, Myanmar and the Philippines. Others, such as Australia’s Prime Minister Paul Rudd, never landed in Thailand, turning back in mid-air upon hearing the news. Some officials fled by boat.
The protesters shouted “Abhisit get out! Abhisit get out!”, as they entered and paraded through the compound of the summit, the Royal Cliff Beach Resort. The red-shirted protesters are supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and claim that the current Thai government led by Prime Minister Abhisit is illegitimate.
A small group of demonstrators reached the section of the complex where leaders of ASEAN were eating lunch. Videos showed protesters there being stopped at gunpoint by commandos and dropping to their knees.
Arisman Pongruengrong, one of the protest leaders, said the goal was to force the resignation of Mr. Abhisit, who took office in December.
The cancellation of the summit is deeply embarrassing for Prime Minister Abhisit, who had meant to use this summit to affirm the return of normalcy to Thai policies, and is also a missed opportunity for Asian leaders to discuss the severe economic downturn that is causing some of the region’s export-dependent economies to contract.
Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations; Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank; and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, were among those scheduled to attend the meeting over the weekend.
The ability of protesters to breach security at a location relatively easy to protect — the venue is on a bluff overlooking the Gulf of Thailand and accessed only by two roads — raised questions about the functioning of the Thai government and its ability to manage its security forces.
"Rumours of a possible coup or House dissolution were spreading last night as it appeared the government had lacked cooperation from police and military in preventing the protesters from entering the summit venue's compound," the Nation, a Thai newspaper, reported.
Prime Minister Ahbisit has since stated that legal action would be taken against the protesters, stating that his priority was to “bring peace to the country, bring back governance and have a process of political reform”.
"The situation has gotten completely out of hand. Violence and bloodshed is very much possible" if Abhisit does not resign or dissolve Parliament, said Charnvit Kasetsiri, a historian and former rector of Bangkok's Thammasat University. "If the government cannot control the situation, military intervention is not out of the question.
Reuters, Thai PM vows swift action against summit wreckers, 11 April 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSBKK464323
New York Times, Thailand Cancels Summit After Protests 11 April 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/12/world/asia/12thai.html?_r=1&ref=asia
The Observer, Thailand flies Asian leaders to safety as Thaksin Red Shirts storm summit, 12 April 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/12/thailand-protests-cancel-asi...
AFP, Protesters force Thailand to cancel Asia summit , 12 April 2009, http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5joHDbD4QRq98uYe_oWKry1...