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Thai junta wants free World Cup broadcasts in 'happiness' drive

Thailand's junta said on Thursday it wanted all World Cup matches to be broadcast on free-to-air television, in an effort to improve the national mood after seizing power in a coup last month.

BANGKOK: Thailand's junta said on Thursday it wanted all World Cup matches to be broadcast on free-to-air television, in an effort to improve the national mood after seizing power in a coup last month.

Stepping into a dispute between a television regulator and Thai entertainment company RS, the army urged the private firm to share its live broadcast rights of football's showpiece tournament -- kicking off on Thursday in Brazil -- with public channels.

"We are concerned and want all Thai people to be able to watch the football (for free)," junta spokesman Winthai Suvaree told reporters.

"We are not forcing but we are just asking for co-operation," he said, referring to the army's request for the National Broadcasting Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to resolve the issue.

RS has agreed to share the rights for 22 games with free TV, but fans were pinning hopes on the outcome of a meeting on Thursday to see if the remaining 42 games would also be aired without charge.

Thai viewers have already been dealt a blow after the army refused to lift an overnight curfew in many places -- including Bangkok -- meaning they will have to watch the tournament from home rather than in bars and restaurants.

A court on Wednesday said RS did not have to relinquish its rights to the remaining games, prompting the military to contact the NBTC.

The regulator said the junta was offering to pay RS for the rights to broadcast the other games.

"This is in line with the NCPO's (junta body) policy of making Thai people happy," said commissioner Suthiphon Thaweechaiyagarn.

He declined to provide details of the sum, but according to local media reports RS has asked for around US$21.5 million in compensation.

The time difference with Brazil means most of the World Cup matches will be played during the midnight-4 am curfew, which has been lifted in some provinces and key tourist destinations but remains in other areas including the capital.

Since seizing power from a battered civilian administration on May 22, Thailand's military has embarked on an extensive public relations campaign emphasising the need to "return happiness" to the people.

The public have so far been treated to free haircuts, concerts and even a song penned by the usually stern-faced Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha.

At the same time, authorities have cracked down on dissent, arresting anti-coup protesters and detaining key supporters of the ousted government.

Thailand has yet to heal a deep political rupture suffered in 2006 when billionaire former premier Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled in another army coup.

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