April 12, 2009 in Nation/World

Thai protesters halt Asia summit

Leader arrested after group demands premier’s ouster
Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Anti-government demonstrators storm past Thai soldiers Saturday at the ASEAN Summit convention hall in Pattaya, Thailand.
(Full-size photo)

BANGKOK – Thailand’s humiliated government today arrested the leader of demonstrators who shut down a 16-nation Asian summit. The prime minister vowed further crackdowns as the protesters regrouped in the capital for renewed rallies.

Police Maj. Gen. Supon Pansua said that Arisman Pongruengrong, who spearheaded Saturday’s demonstrations, was taken into custody and detained at the headquarters of Thailand’s Border Patrol Police.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva vowed swift legal action against the protesters who stormed the venue of an East Asian Summit in the beach resort of Pattaya. Abhisit spoke on national television as fears mounted that the country could face violence or a military crackdown in coming days.

Jakrapob Penkair, another protest leader, said members of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship were gathering around Government House, the prime minister’s office, which has been the prime focus of their earlier demonstrations demanding Abhisit’s resignation.

“We will decide where to march to later to pressure the authorities to release him (Arisman),” Jakrapob said.

A tense-looking Abhisit said in a broadcast today that one arrest warrant had already been issued and others would follow in efforts to stem a rising tide of anti-government protests that climaxed in Saturday’s melee.

Thai authorities had to evacuate Asian leaders by helicopter after hundreds of anti-government protesters stormed into their summit site, forcing Abhisit to cancel the meeting.

“The next three to four days will be crucial for the government to prove itself in restoring peace and order in the country,” Abhisit said. “The government will take action against those who were involved in the incident yesterday without bias.”

More than 1,000 demonstrators broke through a wall of unarmed soldiers, smashed through the convention center’s glass doors and ran through the building Saturday, blowing horns, waving Thai flags and shouting demands for Abhisit to resign.

They declared victory after Abhisit canceled the summit, where leaders of regional powers China, Japan and India, and the U.N. secretary-general and president of the World Bank, planned to discuss the global financial crisis.

“We have won. We have stopped them from holding a summit,” Penkair said in Bangkok. “But we have not achieved our goal yet. We will continue to protest in Bangkok until Abhisit resigns.”

Abhisit later denounced the protesters on national television as the “enemies of Thailand.”

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