By Amy Sawitta Lefevre
CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) - The 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach rescued from a flooded cave will make their first public appearance on Wednesday when they hold a nationally-televised news conference in Chiang Rai.
The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach sparked an international rescue effort after they became trapped inside the flooded Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai.
The boys and their coach have been in hospital in Chiang Rai since they were rescued.
"I pass the hospital where the children are staying every day and every day I say a prayer to thank Lord Buddha for their return," said Duang, a noodle vendor, who only wanted to be identified by her first name.
The Thai government will allot 45 minutes' airtime on its "Thailand Moves Forward" for the soccer team's news conference.
The show, which will be recorded at Chiang Rai's provincial hall at around 6 p.m. local time after the evening national anthem, will also be broadcast live across dozens of channels.
Some Thai television personalities joked that the boys will help ratings of the otherwise dull television show, which is usually reserved for monotonous conversations about the military government's performance.
"This is the story all Thais want to hear. Don't switch it off, don't put it on mute," joked a presenter VOICE TV, a television station that is often critical of the military government.
"It should help the Thailand Moves Forward show's ratings shoot through the roof," he added.
The soccer team's rescue operation drew global media attention and hundreds of journalists to the scene.
Many journalists left after the last four boys and their coach were brought out safely last week. But the sleepy, northern town of Chiang Rai kicked into action again on Wednesday ahead of the boys' much-anticipated appearance.
"The reporters are back. I had to pick a Japanese reporter up from the airport at 2 a.m.," said Manop Netsuwan, a Chiang Rai resident and tour operator.
At Chiang Rai Airport a screen welcoming visitors shows a cartoon of the group with rescuers and the words: "Our Heroes".
The boys, their coach and some rescuers will be asked a series of carefully vetted questions submitted by journalists in advance, officials said.
They have asked the media and the public to respect the boys privacy after they are discharged, citing concerns about the sudden impact of media attention on the boys' mental health.
"The media know that the children are in a difficult situation, they have overcome peril and if you ask risky questions then it could break the law," Tawatchai Thaikaew, deputy permanent secretary at the Justice Ministry, told reporters on Wednesday.
"We don't know what wounds the kids are carrying in the hearts," he added.
(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpnat in BANGKOK; Editing by Michael Perry)