Political demonstrations in Thailand on Saturday disrupted the Association of South East Asian Nations summit, according to Thai and Japanese officials.
Thousands of “red shirt” protesters — named for their clothing — have rallied for days to demand that Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva step down. Their protests are not directly related to the Asian summit, but the demonstrations created so much chaos that summit members could not reach at least two of their meetings. The disruptions included traffic around hotel meeting sites and conflicts among protesters. “Blue shirt” protesters and red shirts clashed, both sides armed with long sticks. One of the meetings — at which China, Japan and South Korea were to discuss issues including economics, regional security, North Korea and disaster prevention — would still take place, possibly by phone, said Kazuo Kodama, press secretary for the Japanese government. The other meeting was to cover similar issues, but details were not immediately available about when it would take place.
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In a strategy change among red shirts, demonstrators have been urged to go to the southern coastal city of Pattaya to support fellow red shirts in their protests, according to the Thai Public Broadcasting Service, which attributed the comment to Nattavut Saikuea, a protest leader. Earlier, Nattavut had said that red shirt demonstrations might be suspended to allow Thais to celebrate the New Year from Monday through Wednesday next week.
The protesters say Abhisit was not democratically elected. They want him to schedule elections. The demonstrators are loyal to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup. He fled Bangkok last year while facing trial on corruption charges.