Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Thais block 'anti-royal' websites

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok

PM Abhisit Vejjajiva prostrates himself before a portrait of the King Dec 08
The government of new PM Abhisit, pictured, contains many ardent royalists

The new Thai government has ordered ministries to act more decisively against those who violate laws protecting the image of the monarchy.

The new minister for information and technology said the government was already blocking 2,300 websites deemed offensive to the monarchy.

It was seeking permission to block 400 more.

The authorities in Thailand have become increasingly sensitive to perceived slights against the monarchy.

This sensitivity in recent years comes as King Bhumibol Adulyadej grows older and the end of his 62-year reign draws closer.

The information ministry says it has set up a round-the-clock "war room" to combat websites containing content critical of the monarchy.

The army commander has also ordered military units to be more vigilant in tracking anti-monarchy activities.

Web targeted

The number of websites being targeted by the information ministry has increased sharply, from around 1,200 four months ago to 2,300 today - and the ministry still wants to block another 400.

The current government - which replaced one led by allies of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last month - has many more ardent royalists among its backers.

They argue that the monarchy's image is under attack as never before, despite the almost god-like public adulation for 81-year-old King Bhumibol.

Certainly there is plenty of salacious gossip on the internet about certain members of royal family.

But in their attempts to prevent such material being seen in Thailand, overzealous officials have been blocking relatively innocent sites that, for example, merely refer to the strict lese majeste statutes that outlaws criticism of the monarchy.

And no amount of internet censorship can prevent the growing, though still very discreet, discussions among ordinary Thais over the monarchy - some of which can be surprisingly frank.

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