BANGKOK (AFP): A government crackdown on pub closing hours in Bangkok, which has dismayed tourists and infuriated nightspot owners, drew warnings today that the campaign could also do major damage to the economy. In recent weeks, squads of police have descended on popular bar districts to enforce antiquated laws which stipulate that last drinks must be ordered at midnight and that patrons be out the door by 2:00 am. In the past, the rules have been happily ignored by everyone, leaving Thai revellers and hordes of tourists to party until dawn in a city famed for its sleazy nightlife. Despite howls of protests, the new government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra insists it will not back down on the operating-hours issue, saying that with drug addiction rife among Thailand’s youth, “social order” is at stake. “Protest or not protest, I don’t care. But any place found to continue past closing time may be temporarily shut down – and may lose its license altogether,” Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombum said yesterday. Taxi drivers, bar girls, and bar owners all complain their business has been slashed just as the nation struggles to recover from the 1997 economic crisis. “It’s knocked our business down by probably 30 percent on some nights, and who knows how it’s going to affect nightlife in Thailand in the future,” said David Jacobson, who runs Bangkok’s chic Q Bar. Earlier this month, police descended on the nightclub, locked the doors, separated the women from the men, and ordered shocked patrons to provide a urine sample which was then tested for illegal narcotics. “I’ve since heard that only one of those 300 people was positive. If they locked everyone in the Emporium (shopping centre) and tested them, I think they’d find about the same results,” Jacobson said. The veteran club owner said he endorses the government’s efforts to stamp out drug use and deter underage drinking, but is convinced its heavy-handed approach is totally inappropriate. “As for Thailand’s reputation, I don’t think it’s helpful. Thailand is one of the great tourist spots in the world, but people won’t come if they have to worry about police making them pee in a cup.”
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