UN chief calls for end of Thai crisis

The UN secretary general expresses regret over the ASEAN summit's cancellation as the state of emergency is lifted.

Anti-government demonstrators storm through the 14th ASEAN convention hall.
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The UN chief Ban Ki-moon led expressions of regret over the shock cancellation of an Asian summit after thousands of anti-government protesters stormed the venue in Thailand. "I deeply regret the postponement of the ASEAN and related summits and the consequent postponement of my attendance to the events," Mr Ki-moon said in a statement from neighbouring Laos, where he was on a short visit. "I hope for an early restoration of normality in Thailand and for the settlement of differences through dialogue and peaceful means," said Mr Ki-moon, who had been due to attend the talks tomorrow. The embattled Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was forced to cancel the meeting of leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India and New Zealand. Helicopters evacuated foreign leaders from the summit after the demonstrators broke in. A state of emergency was imposed, but that has now been lifted. The Thai premier Mr Vejjajiva has said he had lifted a state of emergency in the beach resort of Pattaya after foreign leaders were evacuated from a protest-hit Asian summit. "It's not necessary to have a state of emergency anymore because the leaders have already departed," Mr Vejjajiva told reporters about five hours after the meeting was postponed. "The government has therefore announced the lifting of the state of emergency in Pattaya and Chonburi," he said, referring to the surrounding province. Mr Vejjajiva, who has rejected calls by anti-government protesters for his resignation, made the announcement in a surprise return to the summit venue escorted by dozens of soldiers, having earlier been evacuated. "We can't deny this has affected the country's image and reputation," he added. "We apologise to the Thai people that this incident happened. Even though the government was not responsible, it is its duty to ensure the meeting runs smoothly," he said. The summit had already been postponed in December, when protesters against the previous government occupied Bangkok's two airports for more than a week, stranding hundreds of thousands of passengers. Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak said the turmoil was a "domestic issue" and supported Thailand's continued chairmanship of ASEAN. "We should give them a chance," he told reporters, adding however that the Thai government should also give an assurance that today's events will not be repeated. "The risk is the same for all of us, not just for me. I'm sure that in the next summit they will take into account the experience of this summit in Pattaya and preparations will be made accordingly." Mr Razak added: "It does not affect our spirit in ASEAN, which is still strong for us to continue to co-operate." He said he managed to squeeze in a bilateral meeting with Mr Vejjajiva but after that he went back to his room and was told to wait while Thailand decided on whether to proceed with the summit. The Philippine foreign secretary Roberto Romulo said the summit had been postponed until further notice, adding: "This is the suggestion of the [Thai] prime minister and we all agreed." Asked whether he wanted to go home ? Philippine president Gloria Arroyo was among those airlifted by chopper ? he added: "Let us all enjoy Pattaya first." A spokesman for the Indonesian leader Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the president was "in high spirits" despite having to turn around for home shortly after arriving at a military airbase near Pattaya. "He's leaving it all to the judgement of the Thai government on how to proceed," he added. The aeroplane carrying the Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, who was to join the summit Sunday, was diverted in mid-air on news of the cancellation. * AFP