Thai coup leaders hire PR firm to improve image abroad
The government of Thailand, which came to power after a military coup last September, is to hire a public relations firm to improve its image.
Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said Thailand would pay the unnamed US firm $600,000 (£300,000) over three months.
It signals a battle over the image of the country, which has been the subject of some recent negative publicity.
Its ousted and exiled former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, has hired lobbyists and PR agents in the US.
He has reportedly asked them to examine the legal situation surrounding his overthrow, though he has also denied having any further political ambitions.
Gen Surayud indicated that one reason for taking on the PR firm was to counter the lobby for Mr Thaksin, the Associated Press news agency said.
The Thai government was also attacked last week in an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal, placed by a lobby supporting the US pharmaceutical industry, which criticised Thailand's move to disregard patents held on HIV/Aids drugs by US firms.
The action has dismayed pharmaceutical firms but has won approval from some patients' groups and development workers.
Gen Surayud said the PR firm acting for the government would clarify Thailand's policies.
"The company will explain [Thailand's political situation] to people in the US and other countries," he said.
"The money isn't much, but we have to do what we have to do. It is better than not doing anything at all," he added.
The Thai military sparked international alarm when it deposed Mr Thaksin last year, and has since worried foreign investors with some of its economic measures.
Two weeks ago the government completed its draft for a new constitution that will be put to a referendum.
It puts limits on the powers of the prime minister, reduces the number of MPs, and makes senators appointed, not elected.
It is bound to provoke strong criticism that it is far less democratic than the constitution the generals threw out when they seized power last year, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok.
Its backers say the intention is to prevent the kind of abuses of power carried out by Mr Thaksin, who they allege used his enormous personal wealth to bypass the democratic system.
The government has pledged to hold fresh elections by October this year.
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