The measures had also given the police carte-blanche to arrest protesters and seize electronic materials believed to threaten national security.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha in Bangkok, Thailand, October 21, 2020.
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha in Bangkok, Thailand, October 21, 2020. (Reuters)

Thailand’s government has cancelled a state of emergency it declared last week for Bangkok in a gesture offered by the embattled prime minister to cool massive student-led protests seeking democracy reforms.

The decree had banned public gatherings of more than four people and allowed censorship of the media, among other provisions. It was challenged in court by an opposition party and a group of university students.

The revocation of the emergency decree, effective at noon on Thursday, declared that the situation had been mitigated and could now be dealt with by existing laws.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha went on national television on Wednesday night to appeal to protesters to reduce political tensions and promised to lift the emergency measure.

“I will make the first move to deescalate this situation,” he said. “I am currently preparing to lift the state of severe emergency in Bangkok and will do so promptly if there are no violent incidents.”

READ MORE: Why has Thailand declared a state of emergency?

Protesters continue to call for reform

Protesters who have given Prayut a three-day deadline to quit said that withdrawing the measures was not enough.

"He's still seeking to stay in power while ignoring all the people's demands. The emergency decree shouldn't have been issued in the first place," Sirawith "Ja New" Seritiwat, one of the leaders, said:

As Prayut was speaking, protesters marched near Government House, his office, to demand he step down. They also asked for the release of their colleagues who were arrested in connection with earlier protests.

They said that if their demands were not met, they would return in three days. Although the protesters pushed their way through police lines, neither side resorted to violence.

Dozens of protesters – including many of the most high profile protest leaders – were arrested during the crackdown.

Among them was Patsaravalee "Mind" Tanakitvibulpon, who was released on Thursday after being arrested a day earlier.

Patsaravalee, 25, told reporters after being freed that the court had deemed the charges were not serious and that she still needed to attend classes and exams, so bail was granted without having to submit any guarantees.

Protesters say Prayut rigged an election last year to keep hold of power he seized in a 2014 coup. He says the election was fair. Protesters accuse the monarchy of enabling years of military domination and want to curb the king's powers.

The implicit criticism of the royal institution has stirred controversy because it traditionally has been treated as sacrosanct and a pillar of national identity.

READ MORE: Thai PM reconvenes parliament as protesters ramp up pressure

Protesters and palace supporters clash

On Wednesday, royalists held rallies in several cities, in many cases led by local civil servants, in what they said was defence of the monarchy. At a small rally in Bangkok, there were fights between anti-government protesters and palace supporters.

Wednesday also marked the eighth straight day of demonstrations by the movement that was launched in March, despite the detention of many top  leaders.

Prayut, in the taped speech, pleaded with his countrymen to resolve their political differences through Parliament.

“The only way to a lasting solution for all sides that is fair for those on the streets as well as for the many millions who choose not to go on the streets is to discuss and resolve these differences through the parliamentary process,” he said.

“I am appealing to all sides that we must heal injuries now before they become too deep,” Prayut said.

READ MORE: Anti-government demonstrations carry on in Thailand despite police warning

Revoking state of emergency

The government on Tuesday approved a request to recall Parliament to deal with the political crisis in a special session next Monday to Wednesday.

The cancellation of the state of emergency came as Bangkok Civil Court was preparing to rule on motions to revoke the decree on the basis that it illegally abridged freedom of assembly.

The leader of the opposition Pheu Thai party’s team at the court said on Wednesday that he was not impressed that Prayuth had lifted the decree.

“He’s really doing it to protect himself. Why? Because if he didn’t lift the emergency decree today, and the court ordered the temporary protection of the protesters, it would mean all his orders and announcement relating to this were illegal,” said lawmaker Cholanan Srikaew.

READ MORE: Thai protesters’ plaque challenging monarchy removed

Source: AP