PATTAYA, THAILAND - Helicopters evacuated foreign leaders Saturday after anti-government protests forced the postponement of a major Asian summit in Thailand, AFP reporters and officials said.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said that "all the leaders have been evacuated from Pattaya" after around 1,000 demonstrators stormed the venue.
Philippines President Gloria Arroyo boarded a civilian helicopter which landed on the roof of the luxury beach resort hotel where the meeting was being held, an AFP correspondent said.
Police separately said that Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein had been airlifted by chopper to the Vietnam War-era U-Tapao military airfield near Pattaya.
An AFP photographer later said that Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was the first to arrive by helicopter at the airfield, followed by Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Tan Dung and Myanmar's Thein Sein.
Planes for the foreign leaders were on standby there.
Panitan said that other leaders including those of China, Japan and South Korea had been evacuated separately from a hotel where they had been holed up for several hours after protesters trapped them with roadblocks.
He said that details of the operation to remove them was "not being disclosed to media."
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had not yet arrived in Thailand when the summit was cancelled, while Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had only just reached U-Tapao airport and turned back immediately, he said.
A separate news report said Rudd's plane turned around mid-flight.
Rudd's plane was two hours from landing in Pattaya when it was diverted to an unknown destination for refuelling, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) quoted a spokeswoman for Rudd as saying.
The office of acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard confirmed the decision to turn Rudd's plane around, AAP reported.
"The Australian government has been informed by the government of Thailand that the East Asia Summit has been postponed," a statement read. "As a result, the Australian prime minister is now returning to Australia." --AFP
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