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Thai police arrest rappers and other activists over protests

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai police said on Thursday they had arrested eight more activists, including two popular rappers, in a crackdown after more than a month of protests against the military-backed government that have also challenged the powerful monarchy.

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The eight arrested overnight and on Thursday are charged with breaching internal security laws over a July 18 protest and defying an emergency decree that banned public gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, police said.

“The arrests of the leaders that organised such activity are being processed based on the law,” Jirapat Phumjit, deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau told reporters. He said there were warrants for another four activists over that protest.

Among those arrested on Thursday was Dechathorn “Hockhacker” Bamrungmuang, 30, from the Rap Against Dictatorship group, which surged to popularity online last year. The other rapper held, Thanayut Na Ayutthaya, 19, also known as Elevenfinger.

All eight were later released on bail, a lawyer said.

Protests have been held almost daily since mid-July to call for a new constitution, the departure of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha - a former junta leader - and an end to the harassment of government opponents.

Some protesters have also called for curbs on the power of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, until recently a taboo.

Prayuth rejects protesters’ accusations that last year’s election was manipulated by the army in his favour. He has said he is ready to speak to the students, but that criticising the monarchy goes too far.

Three other activists had been arrested earlier. They include Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer who was the first to call openly for reforms at the palace. He was arrested on Wednesday for the second time this month over different protests and also released on bail.

Six arrest warrants have also been issued over a demonstration last week at which students set out 10 demands for reform of the monarchy.

The return of protests to Bangkok streets has unsettled investors by reviving memories of more than a decade of colour-coded clashes between supporters of they establishment and their populist opponents before Prayuth took power in a 2014 coup.

The Thai baht fell to a three-week low of 31.44 per dollar on Thursday and though the move was exacerbated by gains in the greenback it was the sharpest daily drop in a month.

A small group of supporters of the detainees gathered at the criminal court in Bangkok where the activists pre-trial detention and bail requests were being processed.

Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook in Singapore; Editing by Martin Petty and Alex Richardson