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Thai protesters continue rallies, ask court to revoke order

Pro-democracy activists flash three-fingered salute during a demonstration at Victory Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, on Oct. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
University students read a statement about a motion they lodged with the court outside Bangkok Civil Court in Bangkok, Thailand, on Oct. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer)

BANGKOK (AP) -- Student activists applied to a court Wednesday to try to revoke a state of emergency that Thailand's government declared last week in an effort to rein in the country's growing anti-government protests.

    Demonstrations have continued daily in a movement that calls for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to step down, for a more democratic constitution and for reforms to the monarchy -- a revered institution traditionally treated as sacrosanct in Thailand.

    Protesters were gathering Wednesday for an eighth straight day, even though many of their top leaders have been detained and the state of emergency bans public gatherings of more than four people.

    Even the forcible dispersion of a rally by riot police backed by water cannons in Bangkok last Friday failed to faze protesters, who appeared in equal or greater numbers on subsequent days.

    Since Friday, police have not confronted the protesters directly, instead trying to disrupt their gatherings by selective shutdowns of mass transit and seeking to block their online organizing activities.

    The six university students who went to a civil court in Bangkok on Wednesday are suing Prayuth, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and national police chief Suwat Chaengyodsuk. They want the court to temporarily revoke the emergency decree until a full legal ruling can be issued on its legality.

    The students, who read their petition to the media in Thai, English and German, said the decree restricted the legal right of assembly and "excessively, unfairly and shamelessly violated the rights and freedoms of people" with no respect to the constitution.

    The court did not act on their petition but may rule Thursday on a similar appeal that was filed Tuesday by the opposition Pheu Thai party.

    Separately Wednesday, two protest leaders sought to be released on bail at a Bangkok criminal court. After a hearing, however, the court refused to release them, saying they could pose a threat to public order.

    The two -- Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak and Panusaya "Rung" Sithijirawattanakul -- were initially taken into custody during an attempted overnight rally outside the prime minister's office on the night of Oct. 14. They were released Tuesday but immediately rearrested on other charges.

    As he was being driven into the court compound in a prison van, Parit opened a window, flashed a three-fingered salute -- the protesters' symbol of defiance -- and shouted, "The court must side with the people!"

    Another activist was arrested Wednesday morning in connection with last week's protests. Suranart Panprasert is accused of involvement with acts of harm against the queen when her motorcade passed a small crowd of demonstrators. Depending upon exactly what he is charged with by a court, he could face a life sentence if convicted.

    According to witnesses and video footage, no violence occurred as the motorcade passed, but a small group of people made the three-finger protest gesture and shouted slogans at the car carrying Queen Suthida, the wife of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

    The calls for reform of the monarchy have galled conservative Thais. Royalists have stepped up their presence online and held a small rally Wednesday.

    Thailand's Parliament is reconvening for a special session next week to deal with the political pressures of the protests. The government has also sought to censor reporting of the demonstrations, citing "distorted information" that could cause unrest and confusion, but the targeted outlets continued to broadcast Wednesday.

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