Singapore bans Myanmar protest at ASEAN summit

SINGAPORE Sat Nov 17, 2007 12:54pm IST

A protester holds a placard during a rally outside the office building which houses the Singapore embassy in Makati City, metro Manila, November 16, 2007. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

A protester holds a placard during a rally outside the office building which houses the Singapore embassy in Makati City, metro Manila, November 16, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Darren Whiteside

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore has banned all outdoor protest at a summit of Southeast Asian nations and rejected an opposition party's request to stage a Myanmar pro-democracy protest, police and activists said on Saturday.

Leaders of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) are set to sign a common charter that would turn the 40-year-old group into a legal entity. Myanmar prime minister Thein Sein is expected to come, which would mark the first appearance of a top junta member at an international forum since the regime's bloody crackdown on protesters in September.

About 2,500 police have been mobilised for the event and roadblocks have been set up in streets around the venue, where ASEAN will meet other Asian leaders, including Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao and Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.

A police official told Reuters that two applications for an outdoor protest had been rejected, but one for an indoor protest had been approved. He declined to say who the applicants were or where the indoor protest would be held.

The opposition Singapore Democratic Party said on its Web site the government had rejected its application for a protest to "call on ASEAN member states to take concrete measures to promote democracy in the region rather than just make empty promises".

Under Singapore laws, any public gathering of more than four people requires a police permit.

"The Charter states that ASEAN would promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people in the region. How does ASEAN intend to do this if its chair bans outright any form of political activity?" the SDP said.

An SDP member told Reuters the party had not decided if it will stage a protest anyway.

PROTECTED AREAS

In September 2006, during the IMF-World Bank meetings in Singapore, SDP leader Chee Soon Juan ignored a police ban on outdoor protest and made headlines worldwide with a dramatic standoff with police, which formed a human barricade around the handful of SDP activists, blocking them in a city park for four days and nights to stop them from holding a democracy march.

Police said that for the duration of the ASEAN summit, four areas, including the summit venue and the president's palace, had been marked as "protected areas". This means that police can search or detain anyone in the area or ask them to leave.

A group of international students from the National University of Singapore plans a Burmese democracy demonstration outside the summit venue, a statement on the SDP Web site said.

"The students will wear red t-shirts and stand in groups of four to remain within Singapore's stringent laws against the freedom of assembly," it said.

Diplomats expect that the annual ASEAN summit will be dominated by the Myanmar issue.

Human Rights Watch has urged ASEAN to establish deadlines to implement a binding regional human rights mechanism.

On Friday, the U.S. Senate voted to urge ASEAN to suspend Myanmar until the military regime shows respect for human rights.

The charter that ASEAN is set to sign on Tuesday does not include provisions for suspension or exclusion of members, one of the committee members who drafted the text told Reuters on Friday.

Singapore and other ASEAN members have said that keeping Myanmar inside ASEAN offers better chances of putting the country on the road to democracy.

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