US bans troops in Philippines from bars: Spokesman

MANILA (AFP) - The US Pacific Command has banned its troops in the Philippines from bars and nightclubs, a spokesman said on Saturday, with the trial under way of a US Marine accused of murdering a transgender Filipina he met in a bar.

Thousands of American and Filipino soldiers will on Monday kick off 10-day annual military excercises, according to Captain Alex Lim, a spokesman for the US forces, but there will be strict controls on their free time.

"There is a 10 pm curfew. The restrictions include no bars and clubs," he told AFP.

He also said that US soldiers will only be allowed to eat meals "in the vicinity of their place of dwelling," for example at their hotel.

Lim would not say why the restrictions were imposed but conceded they came after a US serviceman was arrested for the murder of a transgender Filipina he met in a bar in October after taking part in military exercises in the Philippines.

US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton is now being tried for the crime in the Philippine city of Olongapo.

Activist groups have seized on the incident to attack the defence alliance between the United States and its former colony, staging frequent street protests against the presence of US forces.

However the Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in the region and which has a seething territorial dispute with China over parts of the South China Sea, has been seeking greater defence support from the United States in recent months.