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Thailand Plans 1 Free Laptop Per Child

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Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has announced that an ambitious project to provide low-cost laptop computers to all of Thailand's millions of elementary school students will begin in October.

The U.S.-based "One Laptop per Child" project aims to deliver up to 30 computers to Thailand in October and 500 more in November, Thaksin said in a nationwide radio broadcast on Saturday.

"If this project is completed, each elementary school child will receive a computer to learn on at school," Thaksin said.

"Each elementary school child will receive a computer that the government will buy for them, free of charge, instead of books, because books will be found and can be read on computers," he said.

He said the first batch of laptops - costing around US$100 (euro79) each - will be distributed to children in rural areas where access to technology is limited. Those children will test the computers before the government proceeds with the project nationwide. The laptops are not yet in production.

The Thai government adopted the project a year ago after Thaksin met the "One Laptop Per Child" project's founder, Nicholas Negroponte, the state Thai News Agency reported Sunday.

Some critics say the project misallocates resources and that governments in developing countries would do better to invest in providing for more basic needs. Other countries that have shown interest in the project - which has been endorsed by the United Nations - include China and Brazil, Thaksin said.

The machines are being designed to be cheap and sturdy, and have minimum running costs. They will use the free Linux operating system, flash memory instead of a hard drive, and according to Thaksin will be able to run on an outboard electricity generator that is pumped by hand.

Thaksin entered business as an agent for IBM computer systems, and later built a telecommunications empire that made him one of Thailand's richest men.

The prime minister last week launched his campaign for re-election at polls scheduled for Oct. 15.

© 2006 The Associated Press.

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