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Blank spaces replace New York Times article on flagging Thai economy

[BANGKOK] The International New York Times said its printer in Thailand removed a piece on the moribund state of the kingdom's economy on Tuesday, forcing the edition to carry blank spaces including on the cover.

It is the second time in the last 10 weeks that the paper has said its local printer declined to run an article in a country where media freedoms have been increasingly curtailed since last year's military takeover.

Tuesday's newspaper was supposed to carry a report headlined "Thai economy and spirits are sagging", a wide-ranging piece exploring the junta's inability to kickstart the flagging economy and the disappointment felt among many ordinary Thais.

It also touched briefly on succession concerns surrounding 87-year-old King Bhumibol, the world's longest serving monarch who is revered but ailing.

Instead chunks of the front page and page six were blank and carried the sentence: "The article in this space was removed by our printer in Thailand. The International New York Times and its editorial staff had no role in its removal."

A spokeswoman for the paper gave the same reply when asked for comment by AFP.

Eastern Printing PCL, the paper's Thai printer, did not comment on why it pulled the piece when contacted by AFP. The article was still accessible online in Thailand.

On Sept 22, Eastern Printing did not publish the entire newspaper because the Asia edition featured a detailed front page article on the health of King Bhumibol, a hugely controversial topic in Thailand.

The monarchy is shielded by one of the world's toughest lese majeste laws and prosecutions have increased dramatically since the military took over last year in a coup.

Media have to routinely self-censor when reporting on the monarchy for fear of falling foul of the broadly worded law, which carries up to 15 years in jail for each count of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent.

The September article explored anxieties inside Thailand over Bhumibol's chosen successor, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who does not enjoy his father's widespread popularity.

However Tuesday's piece primarily centred on the stuttering economy.

Thailand has one of the lowest growth rates in Southeast Asia and the junta's vow to reinvigorate the economy has shown little progress in a country blighted by high household debt, low consumer confidence and disappointing exports.

Earlier this month the International New York Times said it would cease printing in Thailand altogether by the end of the year, citing rising production costs.

It is still available in six other Southeast Asian nations: Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar.