Wed, Apr 08, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Thai protesters trap PM in hotel at Pattaya Beach

AFP , PATTAYA, THAILAN

Hundreds of protesters trapped Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva inside a beach hotel for several hours yesterday, raising tensions ahead of a key Asian summit being held here later this week.

About 400 red-clad supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra surrounded the hotel in the resort town of Pattaya, where Abhisit was holding a Cabinet meeting amid tight security.

The Newcastle, England-born Abhisit had moved yesterday’s Cabinet meeting to Pattaya because Thaksin loyalists have blockaded the main government offices in Bangkok for nearly two weeks to press for fresh elections.

LONG-RUNNING FEUD

The protesters dispersed and allowed Abhisit to leave after about three hours, but the incident further upped the ante in a long-running feud between Thaksin loyalists and Abhisit’s nearly four-month-old government.

Thai Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon had earlier managed to evade the protesters by escaping from a side entrance used by suppliers to the luxury hotel.

The resort is set to host leaders of the ASEAN and regional partners including China and Japan at a summit starting on Friday.

The summit — already postponed from December because of ongoing political unrest — would go ahead as planned, said Vitawas Srivihok, the senior ASEAN department official at Thailand’s foreign ministry.

“The ‘Red Shirts’ protest will not affect foreign leaders attending the summit,” Vitawas said.

The incident came a day before a mass rally planned by Thaksin’s supporters in Bangkok that organizers say hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend.

CRIPPLED BY TURMOIL

Thailand, a key tourism destination, has been crippled by political turmoil since billionaire tycoon Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in September 2006.

He is living in exile to avoid a two-year jail term imposed last year over corruption allegations that he says are politically motivated.

In their bid to force Abhisit from office, the “Red Shirts” have taken a leaf from the playbook of rival demonstrators who drove Thaksin’s allies from government with a huge street campaign last year.

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