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Thai PM confident of smooth run


April 19, 2008

Thai PM confident of smooth run

Thailand’s Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said he is absolutely confident with the security measures that have been put in place, and he looks forward to Thailand fulfilling the 10.5-kilometre run to carry the Olympic symbol to the next stage.

"We won't infringe on the freedom of individuals but we won't tolerate anyone using their rights to cause trouble to others as that can tarnish the country's image," Thai News Agency quoted the premier as saying.

Protests over China's suppression of Tibetan demonstrations have dogged the torch relay at various stops on its worldwide journey that began at the ancient site of the original Olympics in Greece.

The torch arrived in Thailand early Friday morning under tight security and was quickly whisked to a luxury hotel. Thailand's crown princess welcomed the flame, scheduled to be run through Bangkok on Saturday.

Bangkok Metropolitan Police Chief Asawin Kwanmuang said more than 1,000 uniformed and plainclothes police officers, along with hundreds of other crowd control and security personnel, would be deployed at the event.

"We have also asked officials to make sure there are no anti-China signs and banners on buildings in the area and to see that people don't gather in small alleyways near the route to cause disturbances," he said.

However, the 6.3-mile run, which will start at Bangkok's Chinatown and ending at the Royal Plaza, could be changed and shortened at the last minute if protesters try to disrupt it, said Gen. Yuttasak Sasiprapha, president of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand.

A police helicopter will follow overhead as police motorcycles ride beside runners. Police vans will also follow along in case the athletes need to jump inside for safety, he said.

A coalition of human rights and other activist groups in Thailand said they would hold a peaceful protest outside the UN’s Asian headquarters in Bangkok, which is along the planned relay route.

"We want to show the Chinese government that the crackdown in Tibet did not spark outrage only in the Western world," said Pokpong Lawansiri, coordinator of the Free Tibet Movement.

The torch is scheduled to leave for Malaysia on Saturday night.

The progress of the torch has been dogged by protesters since it was lit in Greece last month.  The Asia torch relay includes stops in India, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam before heading to China.

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