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King of Bhutan giving people TV, Internet for silver jubilee

THIMPU, Bhutan (AP) -- For the leader of one of the world's most traditional and isolated countries, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk of Bhutan will celebrate the silver jubilee of his coronation in a most unorthodox way -- with television and the Internet.

On June 2, when King Jigme completes 25 years as the ruler of Bhutan, the sumptuous banquets will be played down and the royal pageants will be missing.Instead of pomp and grandeur, television will be introduced in Bhutan for the first time, its citizens will have access to e-mail and the Internet, and a low-cost housing and pension scheme will be introduced for the poor.

Officials said the king initially did not want any celebrations but finally agreed to a low-key affair that would focus on the development of the region.

"The silver jubilee is not only a moment of joy and jubilation for all the Bhutanese people, but it is also an opportune moment for us to consciously reflect on our past as we prepare the course of our journey into the next millennium," Bhutanese foreign secretary Ugen Tshering said.

For years, Bhutan, an isolated Himalayan kingdom landlocked between China and India, has sought to preserve its culture. Men and women are required to wear traditional robelike dress. Buildings -- public and private -- conform to orthodox style, often decorated with religious symbols.

But things are changing as the king gradually allows changes and innovations.