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Thailand Blocks YouTube Web Site Over  Video of Thai Monarch Deemed Insulting

A video clip from the YouTube video sharing Web site deemed insulting to Thailand's revered monarch was removed after the Thai government had blocked access to the site. The controversy arose at a time of intense political debate on the Internet between supporters of the military rulers and opponents of the coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Ron Corben reports from Bangkok.

The 44-second video clip appeared on the YouTube video sharing Web site earlier this week. It showed crude graphics superimposed over grainy pictures of Thailand's King Bhumipol Adulyadej. The sound track was the Thai national anthem.

Thailand's military government had appealed to Google to withdraw the clip and blocked access to the site, accusing YouTube of "heartlessness." The clip was "removed by the user", according to the Web page.

King Bhumipol, aged 79 and the world's longest reigning monarch, is deeply revered. Criticizing or offending the Thai Royal Family is a crime.

Roby Alampay, executive director of the South East Asian Press Alliance, said the clip hurt local sensitivities.

"Foreigners should understand, the world should understand this is really something that will really hurt the sensibilities and will really offend the Thai people. The King is a very respected, very much loved, very much revered figure in Thai society," he said.

But once news broke of the video clip's existence, the site was viewed 50,000 times in less than one day.

The episode has shown both the extent of political debate and questioning of Thai identity caused by enduring political tensions, and the extent of media controls.

Alampay says the military installed Prime Minister, Surayud Chulanont, has been tolerant of the media so far. But the lack of a new constitution means there are no laws in place to ensure media freedom, on the Internet or elsewhere.

"It is still officially a regime of censorship and at best a regime of tolerance," Alampay said. "The unfortunate thing about that is that tolerance is never a stable enough environment - it's given to whims - it's given to sensitivity - it's given to oversensitivity."

The military government has blocked Web sites and other media linked to supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a September 19 coup last year. It has also blocked other sites deemed insulting to the King.

Media watch groups estimate that Thai authorities have blocked 45,000 Web sites in recent years.