21 December, 2002

Hotel security tightened before Thai-Malaysian summit

HAT YAI, Thailand (Reuters) - Thai police threw up barbed-wire barriers around a southern hotel, the venue of a Thai-Malaysian summit, a day after clashes between police and protesters against a pipeline project wounded dozens.
The protests in Hat Yai, 900 km south of Bangkok, were against the planned construction of a 360-km pipeline linking gas fields in the Gulf of Thailand with Malaysia.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad are due to discuss the project, which environmentalists say will pollute land and destroy fishing grounds, on Sunday.
"We will be decisive in enforcing the law, in taking full legal action against those bent on violence," Thaksin said on his weekly radio programme.
Clashes broke out after police tried to disperse a crowd of around 1,000 villagers marching toward the JB Hotel, the venue of the Mahathir-Thaksin meeting.
The Thai and Malaysian governments say the $700 million pipeline project, which will involve the construction of a gas separation plant near Hat Yai, will bring jobs to the region and help supply gas to the Malaysian peninsula.
Thaksin said 15 policemen were injured in the 45-minute melee on Friday which he blamed on instigation by some non-governmental organisations. Police said they arrested 12 protest leaders.
Suriyasai Katasila, secretary general of the Campaign for Popular Democracy which supported the demonstrators, told Reuters police had used excessive force against peaceful demonstrators.
"The government should be held responsible. The police action was excessive. They could have avoided violence by using tear gas or water cannons to disperse the crowd," he said, adding that five villagers were hospitalised in the scuffle.
Thaksin threatened legal action against NGO leaders who resort to violence to oppose the pipeline project.
"We will blacklist NGOs which are bent on violence. We will use the full force of the law against these people," he said.