ASEAN head travels to protest-hit Thailand to 'clarify' summit
AFP - Saturday, November 29
BANGKOK, Nov 28, 2008 (AFP) - The secretary general of Southeast Asian bloc ASEAN said Friday that he had travelled to Thailand to assess whether the kingdom was still fit to host a summit as protests shutter the main airports.
Speaking by phone to AFP as he made his way overland to Bangkok, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) head Surin Pitsuwan -- a former Thai foreign minister -- said the final decision lay with the Thai government.
"Part of my trip here is to discuss the ASEAN summit with the Thai government. I have to listen to the Thai government first," he said.
"The Thai government should make a decision on its readiness and the internal situation."
Surin has been in Singapore, and said he was travelling overland from Penang, Malaysia, near the Thai border.
Current ASEAN chair Thailand has previously said it will go ahead with the December summit in the northern city of Chiang Mai, even as anti-government protesters stepped up a six-month campaign to topple the administration.
However, Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat told reporters Friday that he was still considering his options.
"I have not decided whether to postpone it, but to postpone it will damage our country's image," he said.
"If we can re-open airports I still think that we can organise the meeting in time because we have almost completed our preparations."
Protesters swarmed the main Suvarnabhumi airport Tuesday and shut it down, and on Thursday, the smaller Don Mueang was also forced to shut its doors after protesters surrounded it, cutting almost all air travel in and out of Bangkok.
Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have raised the possibility of postponing the summit due to the worsening political crisis in the country.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong on Friday urged Thailand to put off the summit.
"In my opinion, the postponement of the ASEAN summit is necessary given the current complex situation in Thailand, in which there is no one who is able to control this anarchic situation," Hor Namhong told reporters.
Somchai declared emergency rule at the two airports on Thursday to try to rein in the protests, after holding a special cabinet meeting in Chiang Mai to discuss the escalating turmoil.
He has rejected calls by the army chief to hold new elections.
Thailand announced in late October that the ASEAN summit would be moved from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, a government stronghold.
The government said it was because of northern Thailand's cooler climate, but the anti-government protests are believed to be a key factor.
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