Thailand's military ruler apologised for suggesting that attractive foreign tourists might be unsafe on the country's world-famous beaches if they wear bikinis.
The comments came just after the bodies of two British tourists were found bludgeoned to death on the scenic resort island of Koh Tao on Monday, dealing another blow to a tourist industry which has been struggling to recover since the army seized power in May.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha's comments Wednesday triggered an uproar on social media with criticism that his comments were insensitive and chauvinistic by insinuating that unattractive women were safe to wear bikinis while pretty women were in danger of attack.
One British tabloid, the Daily Mail, ran a front-page headline accusing him of "Smearing ... Britons Murdered in Paradise."
Prayuth had said that foreigners visiting the Southeast Asian country think they can act and dress however they want.
"This has always been a problem.... they think our country is beautiful and safe and they can do whatever they want, wear bikinis wherever they like. I'm asking if they wear bikinis in Thailand, will they be safe? Only if they are not beautiful," he said.
On Thursday he backtracked. "I apologise that I have spoken too harshly ... I didn't mean to criticise or look down on anyone. Today I can guarantee that Thailand is still safe ... I wanted to warn (the tourists) to be careful," he said.
Although Thailand is infamous worldwide as a freewheeling hub of sex tourism, its culture is fairly conservative with many Thai women preferring to don shorts and T-shirts rather than bikinis on the beach.
The killings of the two Britons remain unsolved and no arrests have been made.