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Thai protesters gather to disrupt Asian summit

ANTI-GOVERNMENT protesters converged on the Thai beach town of Pattaya today with plans to disrupt an Asian summit as part of efforts to try to force Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to step down.

Close to 1,000 red shirt clad demonstrators gathered in a parking lot several kilometers from the hotel and conference complex where the summit was to be held, and more were arriving by bus from the Thai capital Bangkok and other areas.

They planned to march on the complex later in the day.

Security forces around the summit venue in Pattaya have been doubled to 8,000 after red-shirt demonstrators threatened to stage protests in the resort town.

Despite possible disruptions, the 16 heads of state planning to attend were still confirmed for the event, Thailand's Channel 3 television reported.

"This government has no right to be at this summit. It is not Thailand's representative and we cannot accept it. This is the government of the army," Nopporn Namchiangtai, a protest speaker, said.

"We have nothing against this summit, but if we have to stop it we will."


Security in Pattaya, about 150 km south of Bangkok, known for its racy nightlife and as a port of call for US sailors, has been beefed up since demonstrators smashed a window on Abhisit's car earlier in the week.

Riot police with plexiglass shields, batons and helmets, and some fire trucks, were posted near the meeting venue and at intersections on the roads leading toward it.

On Thursday night, Abhisit said Friday would be a public holiday to help the government cope with the effects of political protests that have caused chaos in Bangkok and threatened the East Asian Summit, which brings together leaders from around the region.

On Friday, foreign ministers from the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were scheduled to meet their counterparts from China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India to discuss political and security issues.

Japan was expected to push for a joint stand about the rocket that North Korea launched on Sunday.

This weekend's summit will focus on regional responses to the worsening global economy and will receive briefings from the heads of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and the Asian Development Bank.

The leaders will also discuss trade, food and energy security and disaster management.

The summit had to be cancelled late last year because of political unrest when a pro-Thaksin government was in power.

Abhisit's administration has billed the rescheduled event as a sign Thailand was getting back to normal after political turmoil that has damaged Thailand's image with investors and hurt tourism.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.


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