Anti-government protesters storm the Asean summit convention hall in Pattaya. (AP)
Pattaya (Thailand), April 11 (Reuters): A summit of Asian leaders in Thailand was cancelled today after anti-government protesters swarmed into the meetings venue, renewing doubts about the durability of the government.
The events will pile more pressure on an economy teetering on the brink of recession, especially if foreign tourists are put off by the scenes of chaos and emboldened protesters intensify the fight to kick out Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Abhisit imposed a state of emergency for a few hours in Pattaya, a resort about 150km south of Bangkok best known for its racy nightlife and as a port of call for US sailors, which was to host the East Asia Summit.
He lifted it after the foreign leaders had left the country. About half of them had had to be evacuated by helicopter from the venue to a nearby military airbase.
The summit fiasco is a huge embarrassment for Abhisits government, which came to power in December through parliamentary defections that the Opposition says were engineered by the army.
The weekends events will also raise questions about how enduring his government can be. Four Prime Ministers over the past 15 months have failed to resolve Thailands deep political rift between the royalist, military and business elite on the one hand, and a rural majority loyal to ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on the other.
Asked by Reuters after his statement about lifting the emergency, if he planned to resign, Abhisit said: We have to restore law and order.
Today, hundreds of red-shirted Thaksin supporters broke through lines of soldiers and invaded the media centre adjacent to the summit venue, the Royal Cliff hotel, blowing whistles, waving flags and shouting: Abhisit Out.
Troops tried to stop them, but red shirts and soldiers came hurtling through a huge picture window at the media centre in a furious scrum. Soldiers then bolted down the road to protect the hotel where Asian leaders were to hold a lunch.
After rampaging about the media centre, an elderly woman in a wheelchair among them, the red shirts were soon huddled with reporters in impromptu news conferences around the conference centre, denouncing Abhisits government as anti-poor.
The East Asia Summit brings together the 10 member nations of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) and China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand for discussions about trade, economic issues and regional security.
Kamal Nath safe
An Indian embassy official in Bangkok told PTI that commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath, who was representing India at the summit, was safe. Nath, along with other leaders, was airlifted to safety, according to reports.