- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2009

PATTAYA, THAILAND (AP) - More than 2,000 anti-government protesters forced the postponement of the opening meeting of an Asian summit, demanding the gathering be canceled unless the Thai prime minister resigns.

Protesters blocked leaders from leaving their nearby hotels and marched to the meeting venue, clashing with a group of rival demonstrators. The two sides threw rocks and smoke bombs at each other about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the venue.

Thai Government Spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said two or three people were injured in the clashes and that authorities were investigating reports of shots fired and an explosion.

A breakfast meeting of the foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea was also canceled Saturday because of the protests, the Japanese Foreign Ministry press secretary Kazuo Kodama said.

The East Asia Summit, which began Friday morning with a meeting of foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, was supposed to get into full swing Saturday when those leaders were to meet with their counterparts from China, Japan, South Korea.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat sought to assure visiting dignitaries they were not in danger.

The protesters “just want to humiliate the Thai government,” he said. “We are very confident that all the delegations are in a good place; they are safe; they are not the target.”

Panitan said that protesters blocked leaders from reaching the conference hall, forcing the opening meeting between China and Southeast Asian leaders to be delayed. He described the delays so far as “isolated” but said other meetings could be postponed.

“We expect that the meetings will resume before too long,” Panitan told reporters.

It was a chaotic beginning to a summit that already has faced several hurdles because of the protesters who descended on the hilltop convention center in Pattaya, a beachside town about 140 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of Bangkok, the capital.

Protesters are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Abhisit was appointed by Parliament in December after a court dissolved a government led by Thaksin’s allies for election fraud. The protesters say Abhisit took office illegitimately and should step down so new elections can be held.

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Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker, Malcolm Foster and Ambika Ahuja contributed to this report.

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