Thai premier apologizes for comments on bikini-wearing tourists

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A tourist on Patong beach in Phuket, southern Thailand. A tourist on Patong beach in Phuket, southern Thailand.

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Thailand’s junta leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha apologized yesterday for suggesting that foreign tourists wearing bikinis were risking their safety, following the murder of two backpackers on a resort island.
Prayuth, who seized power in a May 22 coup and has since taken the post of prime minister, earlier this week said it would be difficult to ensure the safety of tourists wearing bikinis unless they weren’t “beautiful.” The comments, which received widespread attention in the international press, came after two British tourists were slain on Koh Tao.
“I apologize for causing misunderstanding,” Prayuth told reporters yesterday in Bangkok. “I feel sorry for them and about the incident. I don’t want to see further losses.”
The deaths of the two tourists and the handling of the case -- including the publication of photos of the victims’ bodies and their passport information in local media and the naming of suspects who were later cleared -- has threatened to further damage a tourism industry already reeling from political unrest, the military takeover and martial law.
“They think our country is so beautiful and safe they can wear a bikini everywhere,” Prayuth said in speech to government officials on Sept. 17 that touched on tourist safety. “Will it be safe wearing a bikini, unless you are not beautiful? But all of you in this room are beautiful.”
Prayuth is known for his unscripted comments and sarcastic remarks. In a speech earlier this week, he said rubber farmers being stung by low prices because of oversupply and continued expansion might have to sell their products to Mars.
Thailand ‘safe’
“I assure you that Thailand is safe,” Prayuth said yesterday. “Still, there are bad people everywhere so we have to be careful. Safety standards here and in their countries may not be the same and I’m worried about that.”
The number of tourists arriving in the first half of the year to fuel an industry that accounts for about 10 percent of Thailand’s gross domestic product declined 9.9 percent from the year before to 11.8 million, the Tourism Council of Thailand said in July.
Earlier yesterday, government spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak said Prayuth “feels uneasy” about the bikini comments and was concerned about those who misunderstood him.
“The prime minister doesn’t have bad intentions to damage the country’s image or hurt the feelings of foreigners,” Werachon said.
Thai police are still struggling to identify suspects in the murder of the British tourists, and tests on DNA samples from the two victims were inconclusive, the Bangkok Post reported yesterday.
Relatives of one of the victims arrived in the country yesterday, and asked Thailand’s media to be respectful in their coverage of the case, Khaosod newspaper reported, citing Charampon Suramanee, assistant to the chief of the Royal Thai Police.

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