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Apology to be Considered in Reporters' Expulsion Appeal, says Thailand - 2002-03-04

Thailand's government says the publishers of a banned international news magazine have apologized for criticizing the government. A police official says the letter will be considered in the case of two of the magazine's reporters appealing an expulsion order.

A spokesman for the Royal Thai police said lawyers have presented a letter from the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review magazine. Major-General Pongsapat Pongcharoen said the publishers say they are sorry and would like to apologize. "We do not know all the Thai people, how they feel," he said. "But we believe that when they apologize for what they did, most of the people will (be) satisfied because at least they admitted they did something inappropriate."

General Pongsapat said the apology will be considered in the appeal of the two journalists and a ruling is expected by next week.

The Thai government last month revoked the work permits of the bureau chief and correspondent for the magazine and ordered them to leave the country. The expulsions were ordered after the weekly published an article in a January edition that was deemed offensive to the Thai monarchy.

The article reported a speech by the Thai king in which he made remarks that were viewed as critical of the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The remarks were also widely discussed in the Thai news media.

The Thai royal family has no formal political power, but is widely revered and is a symbol of unity and spiritual continuity to the country's 62 million citizens.

Prime Minister Thaksin, who heads a telecommunications conglomerate, is one of the nation's wealthiest businessmen. He was elected in a landslide last year on a populist platform of social and economic reform. He is still popular, but has been criticized as overly sensitive to criticism by the news media.

Police spokesman General Pongsapat said all journalists must understand that Thai people are offended by criticism of the monarchy. "It does not matter if you are going to critique the government, but please do not criticize the thing that most of the Thai people respect," he said.

Another prominent news weekly, The Economist, this week pulled its latest edition from Thai newsstands after Thai officials criticized part of a lengthy survey of the Thai economy as potentially offensive. But Thai officials say as long as the offensive edition was not distributed in Thailand, there would be no legal action by the government.