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Thai junta leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha apologized for comments he made about the safety of foreign tourists wearing bikinis following the deaths 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, said yesterday that 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 this week on Koh Tao.
“I apologize for causing misunderstanding,” Prayuth told reporters today 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 — has threatened further damage to 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 yesterday 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.
“I assure you that Thailand is safe,” Prayuth said today. “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 today, 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.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Blake in Bangkok at firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at email@example.com.