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Saturday, June 27, 1998 Published at 21:24 GMT 22:24 UK

World: South Asia

Bhutan gives in to World Cup fever

Bhutanese have been able to watch moments like Morocco's 3-0 defeat of Scotland

Andrew Whitehead reports from Delhi:

A remote Himalayan kingdom which has always shunned television has relented for the World Cup and has set up a large screen to allow football fans to watch the tournament live on TV.

Bhutan has no television service of its own and the Bhutanese are not allowed to have satellite dishes. But that seems about to change.

The World Cup has brought something new to Bhutan. For the first time, television has won official approval.

The tiny Himalayan kingdom is among the handful of nations which have no television network. There are plenty of TV sets because many Bhutanese have an enormous appetite for videos but satellite dishes are illegal.

Dozens, however, have sprung up in advance of the World Cup and even in this strictly regulated nation no one seems to mind.

[ image: Television could change life in the traditional capital of Thimpu]
Television could change life in the traditional capital of Thimpu
Colleges in Bhutan received special dispensation from the King a few months ago to install dishes and students are watching the World Cup on Indian TV.

Still more revolutionary in this isolated and deeply conservative country, a large screen has been installed at a sports complex in the capital, Thimpu, with hundreds of football fans gathering to watch matches live.

Bhutan may never be the same again. Having tolerated television for the World Cup, it will be almost impossible for the authorities to banish the satellite dishes.

The government is now examining the feasibility of establishing its own TV service. Officials insist the aim will be to preserve Bhutan's identity, not to succumb to Western culture.

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