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Thai retailer apologises for controversial Chinese New Year ad

A Thai retail giant on Friday apologised for a billboard advertisement showing a white woman pulling at the side of one eye, saying it had not realised the gesture could be "offensive" to Chinese people.

Bangkok - A Thai retail giant on Friday apologised for a billboard advertisement showing a white woman pulling at the side of one eye, saying it had not realised the gesture could be "offensive" to Chinese people.

Central Pattana, which owns a string of large malls and department stores in Bangkok and other major cities, said it had removed the Chinese New Year advert as soon as it became aware of concerns over the image.

A picture of the billboard, which had a headline "Good to be Chinese", circulated on the social networking site Twitter on Friday, in the latest instance of apparently inadvertent cultural insensitivity in a Thai advert.

"We are extremely sorry for the lack of judgement in this issue as we did not realise that the gesture of the model in the advertisement would be offensive to the Chinese communities," said assistant vice president Sakorn Thavisin in a statement.

The image generated mixed reactions online, with mainly foreign commentators expressing disapproval.

"This ad is sure to create negative publicity for Central. Lots of people who shop in Central are foreigners. Not a good idea!" said @BKKEarlsy on Twitter.

Central Pattana is Thailand's largest retail developer, according to its website, and manages 23 shopping centres, seven office buildings, two hotels and two residential projects.

Thai firms have stumbled into controversy over racism in the past.

In October a Thai subsidiary of consumer goods giant Unilever apologised for a competition to promote its skin whitening product to students after the company was criticised for appearing to link education with whiter skin -- which is already widely associated with higher economic status in Thailand.

British and Dutch based Unilever, which has more than 400 brands sold in over 190 countries, said it did not intend "racial discrimination".

In September, US firm Dunkin' Donuts said it was pulling an advertisement in Thailand featuring a woman with black face make-up after a human rights group described it as racist.

The "charcoal donut" ad caused little controversy in Thailand, however, while on social media sites there were differing views about whether the ad was offensive.

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