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Thais ban dictionary over 'city of prostitutes' slur

BANGKOK (Reuter, AP) - Thailand yesterday banned a dictionary published by the British company Longman after it provoked government and public protests by describing Bangkok as a city known for its prostitutes.

A police special branch officer told reporters that Longman's Dictionary of English Language and Culture was banned as its Bangkok entry eroded the good moral standards of Thais. He said copies of the dictionary would be removed from bookstores.

It described Bangkok as a city known for its Buddhist temples and as 'a place where there are a lot of prostitutes'.

The Thai Foreign Ministry has demanded that Longman delete the offending reference, and said yesterday the company had apologised for offending the country and its people.

Della Summers from Longman said that her company 'understands the concern expressed by the Thai government in connection with the (Bangkok) entry'. She said the edition aimed 'to set words in their cultural context, and the connotations attached to the word Bangkok and commonly understood by native-speakers of English are drawn from books and magazines in our wordbank'.

Although the statement fell short of promising that Longman would delete the offending reference, it said the company would revise the dictionary at least once a year.

Abhisit Vejajjiva, a government spokesman, said defining Bangkok by its prostitution problem was like defining London by soccer hooliganism and Irish Republican Army attacks.

'We do not deny the existence of the problem. But we do not believe it should be used as the definition of this city,' Mr Abhisit said.

But others want Thailand to attack the problem, not the dictionary. 'The government should take action instead of just being ashamed of the international image of the country,' said Chantawipa Apisuk, head of a prostitutes' rights group.

Officials say there are some 80,000 prostitutes in the country, but unofficial counts are far higher. Twenty per cent of the prostitutes are thought to be under 18.

Ms Chantawipa said some unemployed young women are lured from villages with offers of secretarial jobs in Bangkok. Others are sold to brothels by impoverished parents. Many end up in bars, entertaining the tens of thousands of foreign tourists who visit every year.