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Thailand tightens security for summit meeting

Published: Updated:

Thailand is beefing up security ahead of this weekend’s summit of regional and world leaders, after a series of bomb explosions near a similar meeting in August caused the government deep embarrassment.

Authorities say more than 17,000 police and soldiers will secure the venue for the series of ASEAN and related meetings.

There will also be a 300-strong rapid response team.

On Wednesday, a large armed force rehearsed tactics at the venue in Nonthaburi on the outskirts of Bangkok.

Helicopters clattered over the Impact Arena, swiftly disgorging repelling security personnel, while SWAT-style teams practiced neutralizing suspect vehicles and escorting VIPs into the building.

Thailand was hit by small, non-fatal bombings while hosting the ASEAN ministerial meetings in August in Bangkok. This week’s summits will be held in a riverside suburb of the capital under extra tight security.

In 2009 there was another serious breach of security, when supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, known as the Red Shirts, disrupted the ASEAN summit meeting in Pattaya and caused some national leaders to flee the venue by helicopter.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan watched this week’s security drills and said it is time “to show that Thailand is ready to provide security to leaders.”

The August attacks were blamed on separatists from the Muslim-majority Southern provinces.

A number of men from the region were arrested.

More than 7,000 people have died in violence there since a long-simmering ethnic and religious conflict reignited in 2004.

Srisompop Jitpiromsri, a long-time watcher of the Southern insurgency, said it’s unlikely the same group would disrupt this week’s summit.

The meetings culminate in the East Asia Summit, where world leaders join Southeast Asian counterparts to discuss key issues of mutual concern.

This year’s version will lack some star power, with neither Donald Trump nor Russian President Vladimir Putin attending.

According to Busadee Santipitaks, Thailand’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson, there will be a familiar litany of topics on the agenda, including the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, situation in Rakhine and counter-terrorism.

But the most keenly watched development may be whether the leaders of 16 countries can finally reach agreement on establishing the world’s largest free-trade accord, known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

RCEP involves the ten members of ASEAN, plus Japan, South Korea, India, China, Australia and New Zealand.