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Security Tightened Around Thai PM Following Assassination Threats - 2003-05-19


Security has been tightened around Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra amid reports of assassination threats. The threats come on the eve of a campaign against organized crime figures and follow a three-month war on illegal drug traffickers.

Thai government sources say security around Prime Minister Shinawatra has been heightened following a warning transmitted through the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. The sources say the threat comes from elements that have been affected by the government's war on drugs and organized crime.

The U.S. Embassy would not confirm or deny the reports, but an official said if the U.S. government had any such information it would immediately share it with Thai authorities.

Security was heavy Monday at a special cabinet meeting in the city of Pattaya, 120 kilometers south of the Thai capital. The site was patrolled by a thousand security officers and bomb-detection robots and the prime minister arrived there in an special armored van.

Mr. Shinawatra in a radio address Saturday apologized for his absence at some public functions last week, saying he was advised by Thai security officials to avoid large public gatherings.

This is the second such threat against the Thai leader since he launched a war against illegal drug trafficking in February.

Thai officials say tens of thousands of drug dealers were arrested or surrendered to police during the operation. However, more than 2,000 alleged drug dealers were also killed during that time.

Human rights organizations blame many of the killings on the police and accuse the government of condoning the extrajudicial murders. The Thai government says only 42 suspects were killed by police and blame the rest of the deaths on drug gangs, which were trying to silence potential informants.

This week's threat against the Thai prime minister comes one day before he is to launch a six-month campaign against organized crime figures. The campaign, which is being called the "war on dark influences," is also targeting corrupt public officials.

The campaign, like the war on illegal drugs, is widely supported by the general public. But some critics say the government is also using the campaign to sideline potential business and political rivals of the current leadership.