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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thailand moves ASEAN summit to Chiang Mai amid Bangkok protests

BANGKOK (AFP) — Thailand has moved a December summit of Southeast Asian nations to the northeastern town of Chiang Mai, a government spokeswoman said Wednesday, as protests drag on in the capital.

Originally scheduled for Bangkok, the 14th annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit will now take place in Chiang Mai from December 15 to 18, deputy government spokeswoman Suparat Nakbunnum told AFP, citing the cooler weather up north.

"The prime minister told the cabinet meeting yesterday (Tuesday) that the summit would be held in Chiang Mai and the government had prepared venues for the meeting and accommodation," she told AFP.

"It will be comfortable and easier to organise the meeting there."

Although government officials have insisted that the change of venue was linked to the better climate, anti-government protests which began in May in Bangkok are also believed to be a key factor.

Protestors from the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have occupied the prime minister's offices since late August, and have rebuffed government pleas for them to leave to save embarrassment during the summit.

The protests, aimed at overthrowing the elected government and supported by the country's urban elite, have forced the cabinet to work out of a disused airport terminal.

On October 7, PAD supporters clashed with police outside parliament, with two people killed and nearly 500 injured in the worst street violence in Thailand in 16 years.

Chiang Mai is in the northeast stronghold of the ruling People Power Party and is the birthplace of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thailand is currently chair of ASEAN, which comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Talks will also be held with Chinese, Japanese and South Korean leaders during the December summit, which is expected to focus heavily on how Asia can weather the global financial crisis and stave off a recession.
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