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January 18, 2009

Singapore: Govt to tighten protest laws ahead of Apec meet

Singapore's deputy prime minister said the island state, which is hosting a summit of Asia Pacific leaders this year, may further tighten laws against public protests, according to reports.

Wong Kan Seng, who is also Home Affairs Minister, said the government is reviewing public order laws and may pass legislation to deal more effectively with illegal protests and other acts of civil disobedience.

The legislation is expected to be passed in time for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum in November which could attract both local and overseas protesters, he said.

US president-elect Barack Obama, due to take office next week, is among the 21 leaders scheduled to attend the summit.

Public order laws are already tight in Singapore, where protests require a police permit if held outside a designated free-speech zone and gatherings of five or more people are illegal.

Nevertheless, Wong said fresh legislation is needed to deal more effectively with political activities, while relaxing regulations on people gathering for social and recreational purposes.

He said police could be granted power to take action before protesters could gather at specific areas such as Parliament, and cited protests by the political opposition, and by Myanmar nationals against their country's ruling military government.

"They make a show of breaking the law," Wong said of the protesters.

"The police watch and do nothing and can only follow up with investigation after the show is over when they pack up and leave. This cannot go on," he said.

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