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Terrorism: Eighteen nations military maneuvers focus on defending Panama Canal.

PANAMA CITY — Military commanders and troops from 18 countries including the United States mounted extensive naval exercises focused on defending the Panama Canal against terrorist activity that could threaten maritime traffic, says a security report of the news agency UPI.

In what defense industry analysts saw as a potential major opportunity to showcase the latest innovations in maritime security, more than 2,000 civilian and military personnel pooled resources for the 12-day exercises that will explore how best to secure the Panama Canal. The waterway currently handles about 5 percent of global trade.

Defense industry manufacturers are pinning hopes on new contracts in Central and South America and Asia amid drastic cutbacks in spending in Europe. U.S. defense manufacturers, including those not already contracted to the U.S. military, are in the lead alongside European and Asian competitors looking for new business in the region.

Latin American maritime security in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans will also be the focus of an international conference of government leaders and military commanders scheduled for October.

Officials said the PANAMAX 2010 exercises will be a precursor to enhanced regional cooperation involving intelligence and ground, naval, air and special forces.

The units taking part will explore their ability to respond to a range of potential threats to the Panama Canal region, including terrorist action, a major humanitarian crisis or natural disaster.

PANAMAX 2010, in the waters off the coasts of Panama, will wind down Aug. 27. READ MORE HERE