04/10/2009, 00.00
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Pro-Thaksin demonstrators threaten to block ASEAN plus summit

by Weena Kowitwanij
Anti-government protesters push through security detail, reach hotel entrance. Political experts note former Prime Minister Thaksin is behind protest; his goal is to regain power and regain access to his assets which were frozen after he was charged with corruption.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Hundreds of protesters pushed through security at a hotel in Pattaya, a beach resort some 150 kilometres south of Bangkok, where Asia-Pacific leaders are meeting. More than a thousand of red shirt clad supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin, removed from office on corruption charges, met not far from the hotel and conference complex where the summit is being held. After a brief scuffle with security some of them were able to break through the secured perimeter and reach the building’s entrance.

The summit brought together the ten-nation Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Brunei and Cambodia, as well as six Asia-Pacific nations: China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The three-day event is scheduled to open today until Sunday.

Its focus will be the worsening global economy, but leaders are also expected to discuss trade, food and energy security and disaster management.

Japan is also expected to push for a joint stand on North Korea’s missile launch last Sunday.

During the disturbance at the hotel demonstrators from the pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) shouted slogans against current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, demanding he resign.

“We want to rally peaceful in front of the hotel,” protest leader Arismun Pongreungrong said. “ We are not going to break anything, but we want to show that this government is not democratic.

“We have nothing against this summit, but if we have to stop it we will,” Nopporn Namchiangtai, a protest speaker, added.

Thai police vowed however to use “all means necessary” to clear the hundreds of protesters away from the beach resort hotel.

Thai authorities have also indicated that the summit would not be cancelled and have threatened legal action against the demonstrators.

In a bid to ease tension across the country Prime Minister Abhisit last night announced a public holiday across Thailand for today.  

Protesters had launched mass rallies on Wednesday near the government district in Bangkok.

Yesterday around 100 taxi drivers blocked a major intersection in Bangkok, snarling traffic across the capital.

For his part former premier Thaksin has been egging on protesters with nightly messages via video link. In one he made three demands on the current government. First Privy Council Prem Tinsulanon should resign for his role in the coup that removed him from office in 2006. Secondly, the current prime minister, Abhisit, should resign because he came to power in an “unlawful” manner. And thirdly, constitutional reforms should be instituted to make Thailand a “true democracy”

Mr Abhisit rejected these demands, saying that “what the protesters request is not really about the democracy,” adding that “they can meet within the limit of the law without bringing trouble to others.

Similarly, he explained that “this is not the time to dissolve parliament, before the ASEAN plus summit. Any decision to dissolve parliament will come only when the government is more stable; otherwise chaos will prevail and this could lead to bloodshed in the country.”

For Deputy Minister of the Interior Tavorn Seanniam, the government cannot resign because “it has done nothing wrong.” Instead, Thaksin should come home and “serve out his sentence.”

For Thailand experts, street protests are former Prime Minister Thaksin’s last chance to regain power and get back his frozen assets.

“Thaksin has nothing to lose. He wants to get back 76,000 million Baht (US$ 2.1 billion) which the government froze after he was accused of corruption. Returning to power is the only way he can do that,” said Sunan Srichantra, a columnist with the Nation Weekly.

In the meantime Thailand’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) level has not changed.

According to Transparency International in 2006 Thailand ranked 63rd out 163 countries with a score of 3.6 on a 10 point scale. In 2007 it ranked 84th out 179 countries with a 3.3 score. And according to the latest figure for last year, Thailand is 80th out of 180 countries with a score of 3.5.

By contrast, public officials and politicians are perceived as less corrupt in other Asian countries. Malaysia for example is ranked 47th with a score of 5.1, whilst Singapore gets the continent’s top mark with a score of 9.2 on the 10-point scale.

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