Thursday, October 22, 2009

Massive security at Asian summit in Thailand

Thai soldiers patrol with an explosive detector at a hotel in Cha-Am, a resort town in southern Thailand on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009. Cha-Am is the venue for the 15th ASEAN Summit meeting scheduled for Oct. 23-25. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

October 21, 2009
The Associated Press

CHA-AM, Thailand — Thailand has mounted one of its biggest security operations in recent history with more than 36,000 military and police to prevent anti-government demonstrators from overrunning a summit of Asian leaders, an official spokesman said Thursday.

The government is still smarting from the storming of the East Asian Summit in April in the seaside city of Pattaya where protesters charged through thin police ranks and forced the evacuation of several leaders by helicopter and boat.

Leaders of 16 Asian and Pacific nations, including Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, will gather Friday for an annual conference of the Association of South East Asian Nations in Cha-am, a beach resort 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Bangkok.

About half of the security forces mobilized have thrown a security cordon around this summit venue, backed by 20 armored vehicles, said government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn. The others will be on alert in the Thai capital.

"Security forces have also set up emergency escape routes by land, air and sea," he said. "We don't expect it to be necessary but we want to be ready and to assure leaders that they will be able to meet without distraction."

Security forces have also been empowered to impose curfews and restrict freedom of movement around Cha-am and Bangkok.

Roadblocks were thrown up around the summit venue Thursday. Sniffer dogs patrolled hotels and even local fishermen were stopped from going out to sea.

Thailand has been rocked by years of protest and counter-protest by supporters and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup on accusations of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect to the country's monarch.

Nearly 10,000 demonstrators took to Bangkok's streets last Saturday, demanding a pardon for Thaksin and that he be allowed to return from exile.

The three-day conference includes the annual gathering of the 10-member ASEAN leaders and those of China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

ASEAN is due to unveil a human rights body for Southeast Asia, sign a declaration on climate change and discuss food security, disaster management, bio-energy and economic integration. The groups aims to set up an economic community by 2015.

China wants to expand regional trade and investment and plans a $10 billion infrastructure building fund to deepen ties with its Southeast Asian neighbors. A free trade zone between China and ASEAN is slated to be completed by January 2010.

As at previous ASEAN conferences, violation of human rights in military-ruled Myanmar, which joined the group in 1997, will likely cast a shadow over the proceedings. The international community is pressing ASEAN to pressure the junta to reform.

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