Key casts doubt on return to Thailand

Last updated 05:00 13/04/2009

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Prime Minister John Key is sceptical about Thailand's belief that it can reconvene the East Asian Summit within two months.

Regional leaders fled Thailand at the weekend after protesters broke through security lines and occupied the venue where they were meant to be holding two days of talks.

A Thai Government spokesman said it was regretted that the summit had been "postponed" for security reasons and it had been decided to reconvene the meeting in two months.

Mr Key was dubious: "It is extremely unlikely to be held in Thailand," he said.

Thailand has been rocked by political instability in recent years.

The weekend's summit was disrupted by red-clad supporters of the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The previous attempt to hold the summit in November was upset by protesters dressed in yellow who did not like a government they felt was a puppet regime for Mr Thaksin.

Those protests helped lead to the election of Abhisit Vejjajiva, much to the disgust of Mr Thaksin's supporters, who have now succeeded in embarrassing the Thai Government by cancelling the summit after clashes with supporters of the current Thai Government, who dressed in blue.

A Thai Government spokesman suggested that the protesters had taken advantage of the Government's decision for soldiers not to carry weapons or use force and said these tactics would be rethought at the third attempt to hold the summit.

Mr Key indicated Indonesia might host the next East Asian Summit after he failed even to make it to the summit venue at the beach resort of Pattaya.

On arrival in Bangkok he was told that his safe passage could not be guaranteed.

"Fairly rapidly after that we were told it was off," Mr Key said.

He was advised that it was best to get out of Bangkok in case there was a repeat of last year's blockade of the airport by protesters.

Mr Key flew to Hong Kong on Saturday night and then on to China, where he is due to meet Chinese leaders this week.

He said he was very disappointed at the cancellation of the summit, but also at losing the opportunity to meet United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the heads of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation.

Mr Key was later able to meet the UN boss at a Bangkok airport as the pair prepared to leave the troubled nation.

Back in Pattaya, the Thai Government was trying to make the best of a bad situation saying the leaders of the 10 Asean nations plus those who had managed to make it from Korea, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand were never at risk.

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An "urgent state of emergency" was put in place, but this meant little to the protesters who had rapidly retreated from the conference venue after the summit was cancelled.

After the invasion of the conference centre, a Thai Government spokesman said there would be a crackdown, but so far there has been little sign of that happening.

- NZPA

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