Sunday, 30 November 2008

Asean summit pushed back?

Sun, Nov 30, 2008

BANGKOK - THAILAND'S foreign minister said on Sunday the kingdom may have to postpone a regional summit until March as anti-government protesters continue their occupation of Bangkok's two airports.

Mr Sompong Amornviwat said that the Thai cabinet would make its final decision on Tuesday over whether to go ahead with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meeting scheduled for December 15-18.

'This is just my personal comment, but Thailand may have to postpone, but the postponement would not be long - it may be postponed to early March,' Mr Sompong said on Thai state-run NBT television station.

'But it depends on the cabinet's decision, because the postponement would not only affect Thailand financially, but more importantly it will affect the country's image.'

Thailand, the current chair of Asean, is in the grip of political chaos, as protesters trying to topple the government on Tuesday seized the nation's main Suvarnabhumi airport and forced its closure.

Supporters of the so-called People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) repeated that feat at the smaller Don Mueang airport a day later, and have also been occupying premier Somchai Wongsawat's cabinet offices since August.

The worsening political situation in the kingdom has prompted Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to suggest postponing the Asean summit, and the bloc's secretary general travelled overland to Thailand on Friday to assess the situation.

Thailand announced in late October that the Asean summit would be moved from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, a government stronghold where Somchai is currently running the country from as the protests drag on.

Authorities said it was because of northern Thailand's cooler climate, but the anti-government protests are believed to be a key factor.

In December 2006, the Philippines postponed that year's Asean summit on the island of Cebu until the following month due to worries about an incoming storm and concerns over a possible terror attack.

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