Thai prime minister warns US over press criticism

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Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra today warned the United States not to "step over the line" after it criticized a Thai government order expelling two foreign journalists who wrote a critical article.

Thaksin also urged the two journalists of the Far Eastern Economic Review magazine to admit their mistake and apologize. "Then everything will be fine, everything is over," he told reporters.

In a letter to Thailand's police chief, the Review's editor, Michael Vatikiotis, appealed for a prompt and amicable resolution of the situation.

But the letter dated Tuesday fell short of an apology. "I sincerely regret any apparent misunderstanding" caused by the article in the January 10 issue, Vatikiotis wrote. The article had alleged tensions between Thaksin and King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the constitutional monarch who is held in high esteem among Thais. The Thai media and people almost never make controversial statements about the king.

Vatikiotis also requested a meeting with senior government officials to resolve the dispute.

Asked by reporters for his reaction to the US criticism, Thaksin said Thailand was a sovereign nation that could act as it saw fit.

"Every country has its own right to handle its internal problem. I am not a person who easily bows to pressure. I am not the one who will tolerate anything that causes damage to our nation," he said.

Thaksin said he "warned" US Ambassador Darryl Johnson during a meeting on Monday "to act in an appropriate manner and don't step over the line."

Police accuse the journalists of threatening "national security" and asked the reporters to reveal their sources for the story.

On Wednesday, about 100 university students demonstrated outside the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand in Bangkok, demanding foreign journalists respect Thailand's monarchy.

International press watchdogs and Thai media have slammed the expulsion orders, the first against a foreign journalist since 1977. Critics say it undermines Thailand's democratic norms and sullies its reputation.