World Travel Watch: Violence on Guatemala’s Buses, Tourist Police in the Philippines and More

World Travel Watch: Larry Habegger rounds up global travel news

07.21.10 | 12:35 PM ET

World Travel Watch is a weekly report designed to help you make informed judgments about travel. Conditions can change overnight, so always make your own inquiries before you leave home. The U.S. State Department and embassies or consulates are good places to start.

Guatemala: Extortion Gangs Continue Attacks on Bus Drivers

Gangs running extortion rackets against Guatemala City bus drivers continued their murderous enforcement with three recent attacks that killed four people. In one, two passengers died and 15 were injured when the assailants tossed a grenade inside the bus and it ignited a fire. The bus was on its regular route between Guatemala City and the western suburb of San Juan Sacatepequez. In another, the driver was shot and killed and his assistant wounded when traveling in the southwestern part of the city. The gang even attacked the funeral for a murdered driver and killed another person and wounded three in the gunfire. The gangs demand protection payments that can run as high as $100 a day to drive through the neighborhoods that they control.

Netherlands: EU Court Supports Maastricht’s Ban on Foreigners in “Coffee Shops”

Maastricht, a town near the borders of Belgium and Germany and not far from France, plans to ban foreigners from its marijuana cafes, better known as “coffee shops,” because of the daily influx of thousands of tourists looking to get high. Some 4,000 drug tourists cross the borders every day with more on weekends, composing about 70 percent of the coffee shops’ business. A lawsuit against the ban filed by a coffee shop owner went before the European Court of Justice, which opined in favor of the law. A Dutch court will make a final ruling by the end of the year.

Philippines: 82 Tourist Police Deployed in Visayas, More to Come

Eighty-two new tourist police officers were recently deployed in tourist spots around the Central Visayas. The officers will man tourist police assistance centers in Cebu, Lapu-Lapu City, Bohol, Negros Oriental and Siquijor. In addition to being trained in the usual skills to aid tourists, the police were taught scuba diving so they can assist in ocean emergencies. Another 60 officers are being trained for duty on Cebu because the province has so many beach resorts.

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands: Security Increased in Wake of Tourist Killing, Suspect in Custody

Authorities bolstered security in tourist areas throughout the island after the shooting death of a teenage Carnival Cruise Lines passenger July 12. The security measures included increased police foot and mobile patrols, upgraded surveillance equipment and 24-hour camera monitoring. One suspect was arrested after turning himself in to police and further arrests were expected.

Thailand: Don’t Feed the Elephants, or Else; Emergency Lifted in the North

Authorities warned tourists in Bangkok not to buy food for street elephants or they’d face a 10,000 baht ($310) fine. The move is the latest attempt to control begging by elephant owners who bring their animals in from the countryside to eke out a living in the city. The mahouts (handlers) face the same $310 fine and six months in jail if caught selling bananas and sugar cane to tourists to feed to the elephants. The law is designed to protect the elephants, whose life expectancy is allegedly cut in half by living in the congested city. In other news, the government lifted the state of emergency in the three northern provinces of Lampang, Roi Et and Sakon Nakhon. The law remains in effect in Bangkok and 15 other provinces.

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