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12 July 2009

Thailand tightens security ahead of regional meeting

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Thailand will deploy almost 10,000 security personnel to the tourist island of Phuket to keep protesters away from a high-level regional meeting later this month, the country's defence minister was quoted by Reuters as saying Friday.

Prawit Wongsuwan, a retired army general, said all rallies were banned from Friday until July 24 to prevent a repeat of April's East Asia Summit, which was cancelled after protesters poured into the meeting venue in Pattaya, east of Bangkok.

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton will be among those attending the July 17-23 meetings, along with counterparts from the European Union, China, Japan, Australia, Russia, New Zealand, India, South Korea, Canada and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

"I will do whatever it takes to stop these demonstrations from happening," Prawit Wongsuwan told Reuters in an interview. "This is for the country and all Thais."

The cancellation of the summit in Pattaya caused huge embarrassment to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose country holds the rotating chair of Asean.

Prawit admitted the government had underestimated the determination of the protesters, who broke through multiple police, army and navy lines before invading the summit venue and prompting the evacuation of leaders by helicopter.

Prawit gave his assurances that it would not happen again.

"At that time we did not think thoroughly," he said. "We just wanted to control the crowd. It was clear that once the demonstration occurred, it had wrecked the meeting. That is why I want no protests this time." The government plans to set up checkpoints across the popular holiday island, 860km south of Bangkok, to prevent suspected protesters sneaking in early.

Prawit said police would conduct regular searches in hotels and guesthouses , but assured tourists they would not be affected by the tight security measures.

Phuket is a stronghold of Abhisit's Democrat Party, which heads a coalition government struggling to revive an economy hobbled by the global downturn .


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