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Thailand seeks to ban tourists' Buddha tattoos

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SINFAH TUNSARAWUTH and TODD PITMAN | June 2, 2011 07:52 AM EST | AP

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BANGKOK — Thailand's Culture Ministry says foreign tourists should be barred from getting Buddhist tattoos while visiting because the practice is culturally insensitive.

Culture Minister Niphit Intharasombat said in a statement that his ministry has been receiving complaints from residents that tattoo parlors are etching sacred images of Buddha and other religious images onto the skin of non-Buddhist visitors across the country.

"Foreigners see these tattoos as a fashion," Niphit said in the statement posted on his ministry's website Thursday. "They do not think of respecting religion, or they may not be aware" that it can be offensive.

Thailand is mostly Buddhist, and Buddha statues and images here are considered sacred objects of worship. Millions of foreigners visit the Southeast Asian nation annually.

Niphit said his ministry had called on tattoo parlors nationwide to halt the activity. According to the country's government news agency, NNT, he also asked provincial governors to "inspect tattoo studios and seek their cooperation."

NNT also reported that Niphit is pushing for a law banning the practice.

However, Ladda Thangsupachai, director of the ministry's Cultural Surveillance Center, said Thursday that tattooing religious images is not yet illegal under Thai law.