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Politics

Thailand to insist on Pokemon-free zones

BANGKOK -- Thailand's telecom regulator wants the developer of "Pokemon Go" to keep the game's cartoon monsters away from certain places, due to "safety and national security concerns."

The National Broadcasting and Communications Commission intends to ask U.S.-based Niantic to remove Pokemon characters from four types of locations: historic and religious sites, dangerous spots such as narrow footpaths and rivers, government facilities and private property. Likewise, the regulator does not want any of these places to be so-called Pokestops, where players can collect virtual items for use in the augmented reality smartphone game.

NBTC Secretary-General Takorn Tantasith said there are other areas he would like to restrict in the future, though he admitted to trying the game at his office -- a government property -- and catching two Pokemon there.

Besides state offices, government facilities include schools, hospitals and anywhere related to national security.

The request will be sent to Niantic via True Corp., the mobile carrier that holds the game's marketing rights in Thailand, within three days, the NBTC said on Tuesday.

The decision to impose restrictions came less than a week after the game arrived in the kingdom last Saturday. Thai smartphone users quickly joined the global "Pokemon Go" phenomenon that started in early July, making the game the country's most-downloaded app.

As in other countries, there have been numerous accounts of players stepping into off-limits areas in search of monsters to capture.

The regulator also ordered all mobile operators to draw up guidelines, within three days, for parents of young "Pokemon Go" players. One concern is that in-app purchases could lead to shocking phone bills.

Thailand has some experience with this: Two years ago, a smartphone game called "Cookie Run" was blamed for a series of complaints about hefty wireless charges. One mother of a 12-year-old player received a bill for 200,000 baht ($5,750 at the current rate). Carriers were forced to waive large fees that subscribers could not afford.

The Department of Land Transport, meanwhile, has warned public transit drivers not to play the game while on duty. Deputy Chief Nanthapong Cherdchoo said drivers found to have broken the rule will be fined 1,000 baht.

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