Heavy security for Southeast Asian summit in Thailand
Thousands of Thai security forces guarded the beachside venue of a major Southeast Asian summit on Thursday, as protesters kept up a vigil outside the seat of government in the capital.
Police with sniffer dogs guarded the Dusit Hotel in the resort town of Hua Hin, where ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will arrive later in the day for informal meetings.
Regional leaders will fly in on Friday for the formal summit which takes place at the weekend, and bomb squad units were scouring the town 180 kilometres (110 miles) south of Bangkok ahead of their arrival.
In the capital, red-shirted anti-government protesters rallied for a third day outside Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's office to demand new elections, but officials said there was no threat to the summit.
"Police have deployed 5,700 officers to provide high security for the summit," deputy national police chief General Virote Paholvej told reporters.
"We are now 100 percent ready and confident the meeting will run smoothly. Our intelligence reports say there has been no movement of red-shirts or of protesters from any international groups," he said.
Foreign ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat played down the Bangkok demonstrations, saying that "no one (from ASEAN) has been asking Thailand about the protests at Government House."
Months of protests against the previous government, peaking with the occupation of Bangkok's airports late last year, forced Thailand to postpone the summit from its original date in December.
That government, linked to ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a court ruling, allowing Abhisit to take power and angering the pro-Thaksin "red-shirts".
The current meeting in Hua Hin is a watered-down version with key regional partners including China and Japan saying they were unable to attend.
ASEAN leaders are expected to focus on protecting the export-driven region of nearly 600 million people from the global financial crisis.
They will also discuss the formation of a regional human rights body but isues such as repression in military-ruled Myanmar are expected to take a back seat to the economy.