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Thai junta to 'return happiness' through World Cup

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Thai junta to 'return happiness' through World Cup
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BANGKOK (AP) -- Thailand's military junta, which promised to ''return happiness to the people'' after last month's coup, asked regulatory officials on Wednesday to find a way to allow the country's many soccer fans to watch the entire World Cup for free.

The junta contacted the chairman of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, the country's broadcast regulator, and asked him ''to seek ways to return happiness to the people through viewing all of the 64 World Cup matches on free-to-air channels,'' NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tanthasit told a news conference.

Earlier Wednesday, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the company holding the broadcast rights could restrict more than half of the 64 matches to satellite and cable TV. The rights holder, RS International Broadcasting and Sport Management Plc., planned to allow just 22 games to be broadcast for free.

The court's decision overturned an order by the NBTC that had required the company to air every game of the World Cup on free-to-air channels, saying the order came out after RS had already won the broadcast rights from FIFA, the world's soccer body, in 2005.

''The NBTC office will seek measures to compensate RS somehow,'' Takorn said.

Since taking power on May 22, the junta has launched a series of activities - from free concerts to free haircuts - as part of a campaign to boost its popularity and ''return happiness'' to the Southeast Asian nation, which has been plagued by political upheaval over the past decade.

The junta, however, has tightly restricted freedom of expression, and said new elections will take at least a year after political reforms occur.

A late-night curfew in most parts of the country is likely to force many people to watch the games at home. Soccer is one of the most popular sports among Thais.

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