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Thai Prime Minister faces stern test at ASEAN -

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Thai Prime Minister faces stern test at ASEAN summiT

The World Today - Friday, 27 February , 2009 12:35:00

Reporter: Karen Percy

ASHLEY HALL: Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva faces a tough test this weekend when he
hosts the delayed leaders' summit of the Association of South East Asian nations.

It'll be a big test for the fresh-faced Oxford graduate who rose to office in controversial
circumstances just over two months ago. In the lead-up to the summit Mr Abhisit is talking up his
Government but protesters continue to question his legitimacy.

He's accused of being closely linked to the protest group which shutdown Bangkok's airports last
year.

South East Asia correspondent Karen Percy reports from the summit's venue in the Thai resort town
of Hua Hin.

KAREN PERCY: The flags are flying. The roadside flower beds are meticulously groomed. Police
officers are everywhere. In Hua Hin and nearby Cha Am Beach everything looks just about ready to
greet the 10 ASEAN leaders and their large entourages.

This seaside area is popular with Thai holiday-makers and it is home to Thailand's revered king,
Bhumibol Adulyadej for much of the year. Now it is the setting where the Prime Minister Abhisit
Vejjajiva is hoping to rebuild the kingdom in the eyes of its neighbours.

Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak is a political commentator at Chulalongkorn University.

THITINAN PONGSUDHIRAK: He has to show in the eyes of the world, that Thailand somehow has a
normality here, that is back to business, that he has leadership, that he has legitimacy and that
Thailand is ready to move forward.

That will be doubtful. I think the Red Shirts now are protesting. There are a lot of people still
have questions about what happened in Thailand because the ASEAN summit was postponed because of
the crisis in December.

KAREN PERCY: Mr Abhisit has been criticised for taking the ASEAN summit out of Bangkok and away
from red-shirted protesters who this week returned to the streets in Bangkok.

Their numbers are small by comparison to the yellow-shirted protesters of the People's Alliance for
Democracy or PAD which forced an embarrassing and costly shutdown of Bangkok's main airports last
year.

The Red Shirts are demanding that Mr Abhisit and his Government step down. They've also been baying
for the blood of the Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who rallied alongside the PAD last year.

Yesterday when police revealed a list of PAD leaders they might charge over the airport shutdown,
Mr Kasit was not on the list. He faced the sack if he was charged.

KASIT PIROMYA: And I don't see the logic of their not liking me. I am such a very nice person and
serving the society to the best of my ability.

KAREN PERCY: Mr Kasit seemed to be in a good mood as he addressed reporters late yesterday.

He'll be hosting a series of high level meetings today ahead of tomorrow's leaders' summit.

Human rights are on the agenda, in particular the setting up of an ASEAN body to deal with human
rights abuses. But the controversy surrounding hundreds of Burmese Rohingya refugees, cast out of
Burma and mistreated by the Thai military, will not be on the formal agenda.

Critics are concerned that the group's policy of keeping out of each other's domestic matters will
hinder progress on finding a solution to the refugee problem. Mr Kasit is confident the issue will
be addressed informally.

KASIT PIROMYA: I think we are an ASEAN family. Anything of concern we can talk to one another
without making demands and questioning.

KAREN PERCY: The ASEAN secretariat is boasting of unprecedented access at this summit by civil
society groups. There will be a number of meetings involving leaders and civil groups who'll be
able to get their message through on some of the thornier issues affecting ASEAN.

But in reality, it's the economy which will dominate this meeting. Across the region exporters are
having to shutdown factories and production facilities. Tens of thousands of workers have already
been laid off because of a dramatic drop in global demand and few countries are optimistic about
achieving even moderate growth this year.

This is Karen Percy in the resort Thai town of Hua Hin reporting for The World Today.