US to close Bangkok embassy during Islam film protest
BANGKOK (AFP) - The United States (US) said on Monday it would close its embassy in Bangkok in response to a planned protest by "several hundred people" over an anti-Islam film.
The consulate, on a main road in the business district at the heart of the Thai capital, will close at noon on Tuesday and "non-essential personnel will be sent home", according to a statement posted on the embassy website.
"The large number of demonstrators is expected to disrupt traffic in the area," it said.
Embassy spokesman Walter Braunholer confirmed the planned rally was part of a wave of often violent protest against a low-budget trailer for a movie entitled Innocence Of Muslims, believed to have been produced by a small group of extremist Christians in the United States.
The US statement said there was no specific threat to US citizens in Thailand, but it urged Americans to "exercise caution".
"Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence with little or no warning," it said.
An official at Japan's embassy, which is close to the US compound, said closure was under consideration, but the Netherlands is planning 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 - about 4 per cent of the population - according to the latest available data, many living in the country's southern states near the Malaysian border.