Thai US embassy to close ahead of film rally

(Asia One) – THAILAND – The US Embassy will close today when “several hundred people” are expected to protest about an anti-Islam film in front of the mission’s compound in downtown Bangkok.

US citizens also have been warned to exercise caution and to avoid large crowds or gatherings, the embassy said in a statement posted on its website yesterday.

It said it was informed by police that a demonstration involving several hundred people was planned on Wireless Road in front of the US mission from 1pm to 2pm today.

“Demonstrators will assemble at Lumpini Park and march to the embassy. The large number of demonstrators is expected to disrupt traffic in the area,” the statement said.

Because of the expected protest, the embassy “will be closing to the public at noon and non-essential personnel will be sent home”, it said.

The embassy said it was unaware of any specific threat to Americans in Thailand, but it advised them to avoid areas that might be targeted for demonstrations.

“Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence with little or no warning. You should avoid areas that may be targeted for demonstrations and exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations or large gatherings. You should monitor local media to keep updated with the latest information about demonstrations and areas to avoid,” the US mission said on its website.

Embassy spokesman Walter Braunohler confirmed that the planned rally was part of a wave of protests, some of which have turned violent, against a low-budget trailer for a movie titled “Innocence of Muslims”. The film is believed to have been made by a small group of extremist Christians in the United States. In its statement, the embassy did not mention Muslims or say whether the planned protest was connected to the controversial film.

An official at the Japanese Embassy, which is close to the US compound, said closure was under consideration, but the Netherlands plans to keep its nearby embassy open because it has an entrance on a separate street.

Protests have been staged since last Tuesday in at least 20 countries, with at least 17 people killed and dozens wounded in violence linked to the film.

Buddhist-majority Thailand has about 1.2 million Muslims – 4 per cent of the population – according to the latest data. Many live in the Southern provinces near the Malaysian border.

Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul said police would be instructed to provide security at the US Embassy as well as its consulate in Chiang Mai, although the US mission had not made any specific request in regard to the rally.

“I have ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to work with the police,” he said.

However, Surapong did not think violence similar what has happened in other countries such as Libya and Egypt would occur here.

Interior Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit said no suspicious movements had been found in Thailand linked to the protest.

“But we will not lower our guard; we will keep a close watch,” Yongyuth said.