Thailand's "red shirts" revel after summit shutdown

PATTAYA, Thailand Sat Apr 11, 2009 3:01pm BST

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PATTAYA, Thailand (Reuters) - Barrelling through a thin line of troops, hundreds of red-shirted anti-government protesters in Thailand hurtled through a plate glass window -- and tumbled into the venue of the East Asia summit.

"We've won -- the summit is over," shouted Aey, one of "red shirts" who support ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

"We'll return to Bangkok now, to rejoin the protest there," she added. "We'll finally get Abhisit out."

The protesters say Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who came to office four months ago through parliamentary defections engineered by the army, is "illegitimate."

Abhisit cancelled the summit after it was stormed and imposed a state of emergency to allow leaders to depart safely.

They were never in any real danger. The protesters had smashed their way into the media centre, while most of the leaders were having lunch at the adjacent Royal Cliff hotel.

Five leaders never even made it to the venue.

Once in the media centre, the protesters paraded around with flags, blew whistles and horns, helped themselves to the snack buffet laid on for the journalists, and held impromptu press conferences with newsmen who were only too happy to get some decent soundbites.

Outside the media centre, Thai troops sat smoking cigarettes or dozing under palm trees on hammocks they had strung up in the shade after the fracas in the topical sun.

Other soldiers cleared away blockades and barbed wired from the entrance to the Royal Cliff complex, as the few remaining staff swept up broken glass and litter and moved a metal detector machine overturned by the onrushing demonstrators.

"We didn't want any violence. We had to let them through -- they were strong," said Daeng, an army sergeant based in nearby Chonburi.

"We didn't want any of this to happen."

The red shirts left the media centre after about an hour, vowing to take their protest back to the capital, Bangkok.

Drivers and motorcyclists sounded horns while protestors on foot, wearing red bandannas, waved red flags and held aloft placards and pictures of Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and is widely believed to be bankrolling the protests.

"It's not over yet," said Jom Changsom as he boarded a coach bound for the capital, where tens of thousands more protestors have been rallying since March 26.

(Editing by Bill Tarrant and John Ruwitch)

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