Thai junta orders free World Cup TV

A Thai shopper watches a soccer match on a flat-panel television at a shopping mall in Bangkok, Thailand Wednesday, June 11 Football is extremely popular in Thailand

Thailand's ruling junta has ordered TV regulators to ensure that football fans will not have to pay to watch any matches at the World Cup.

The military said it was part of its "happiness campaign", which has seen a number of policy gimmicks, such as free haircuts and concerts.

Meanwhile, an anti-coup protest leader has been charged with incitement and could face 14 years in jail.

The junta overthrew the government last month promising to restore order.

Bangkok and some other parts of the country have been under curfew ever since.

The military has since cracked down on dissent, detaining hundreds of potential opponents and releasing them with warnings about their future behaviour.

However, on Thursday Sombat Boonngamanong was taken to a military court and formally charged with incitement and various other crimes.

Police said he could be jailed for 14 years if he was found guilty.

Mr Sombat led an online campaign and protesters wore masks of his face in the aftermath of the coup.

He openly taunted the military government with a Facebook message reading: "Catch me if you can."

Thai anti-coup activist Sombat Boonngamanong (C) gestures as he arrives escorted by police and soldiers at a military court in Bangkok on June 12 Sombat Boonngamanong became a folk hero for protesters
Thai students play soccer with elephants at a school in Thailand's Ayutthaya province June 9 A football match with elephants representing World Cup nations was a big hit with students

In an attempt to subdue opposition to the coup, the military has been running a charm offensive alongside its repression.

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok says ensuring the World Cup can be watched by everyone is central to this so-called happiness campaign.

The RS broadcaster had already bought the rights to the matches and planned to allow only a third to be shown on free-to-air channels.

To see all of them viewers would have to buy a decoder, at a cost beyond many poorer Thais.

So the military has ordered the national broadcasting regulator to negotiate a deal for all the matches to be shown at no cost.

RS is reportedly claiming $21.5m (£13m) in compensation.

Our correspondent says the military seems willing to spend generously to win hearts and minds.

It is already promising to subsidise farmers, to revive ambitious infrastructure spending plans and to cap the costs of basic foods.

The initiatives are borrowed from the government that the junta overthrew after months protests often directed at those same policies.

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