The protesters are calling for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to leave office, the constitution to be amended to make it more democratic and the nation’s monarchy to undergo reform.

Pro-democracy protesters give the three-finger salute during an anti-government rally at Udomsuk in Bangkok on October 17, 2020, as they continue to defy an emergency decree banning gatherings.
Pro-democracy protesters give the three-finger salute during an anti-government rally at Udomsuk in Bangkok on October 17, 2020, as they continue to defy an emergency decree banning gatherings. (AFP)

Thousands of Thai pro-democracy protesters have massed in multiple locations across Bangkok, defying an emergency decree banning gatherings for the third consecutive day after confrontations saw riot police use water cannon on peaceful demonstrators.

About 3,000 demonstrators in the city's main shopping mall district demanded the release of arrested protesters, and some shouted obscenities against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha before they were dispersed by police.

Across the Chao Phraya river, around 2,500 rallied in the western Wongwian Yai district chanting "Long live the people, down with dictatorship!", while in southeastern Udomsuk another 5,000 brought busy traffic to a standstill.

The Free Youth, one of the movement's main organising groups, had warned protesters in an online post to be "prepared both physically and mentally... and to cope with a crackdown if it happens."

Operators of both the Skytrain and underground rail networks had shut down services city-wide to prevent protesters from joining.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha announced an emergency decree banning on Friday gatherings of more than four people would be imposed for at least a month.

The former army chief, who masterminded a coup in 2014 before being voted into power last year in an election protesters say was rigged in his favour, also rebuffed calls for his resignation.

READ MORE: Thailand protests continue after PM refuses to resign

Thai police with riot shields take position in a business district where anti-government protesters said they will meet in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020.
Thai police with riot shields take position in a business district where anti-government protesters said they will meet in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. (AP)

'Impunity'

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights told AFP that 65 activists had been arrested since Tuesday, including nine of the most prominent figures of the pro-democracy movement.

Earlier on Friday, two activists were arrested under a rarely used law banning violence against the queen because they were among a group surrounding a royal motorcade on We dnesday during a large demonstration.

Both men could face life in prison if convicted.

A Thai journalist was also briefly detained during Friday's protest, according to his online news outlet, Prachathai.

Premier Prayut has extended the emergency decree banning gatherings of more than four people until mid-November, ignoring activists' calls for him to resign.

The former army chief was the mastermind behind a 2014 coup before being voted into power in last year's election which protesters say was rigged in his favour.

Opposition party Pheu Thai has called on the government to lift emergency measures and free those detained.

Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters gather in a business district in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. Thailand’s prime minister has rejected calls for his resignation as his government steps up efforts to stop student-led protesters from rallying in the capital for a second day in defiance of a strict state of emergency.
Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters gather in a business district in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. Thailand’s prime minister has rejected calls for his resignation as his government steps up efforts to stop student-led protesters from rallying in the capital for a second day in defiance of a strict state of emergency. (AP)

Human rights groups condemned the government measures.

Human Rights Watch on Saturday warned the emergency decree gave police "the green light to commit rights abuses with impunity" and called for international condemnation.

"Concerned governments and the United Nations should speak out publicly to demand an immediate end to political repression by the Prayuth administration," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

"We condemn any violence against the people," the People's Movement said in a statement. "We will continue to protest on Oct. 17", it said, telling people to be ready for the police to use suppression tactics.

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri told Reuters: "There is no win or lose for any side. It's all damage to the country. The government would like to ask protesters to not gather and remain peaceful."

On Thursday, it ordered a ban on protests which have become the biggest challenge in years to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader, and have brought unprecedented criticism of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Immediately after the ban, tens of thousands of people protested in Bangkok in defiance. Thousands more rallied on Friday.

READ MORE: Thai police arrest more than 20 protesters under emergency rule

Police said that their response to Friday's protest had been proportionate and in line with international norms.

Three protesters and four police personnel were hurt on Friday, said the Erawan Medical Center, an emergency response unit in Bangkok.

Pro democracy demonstrators face water canons as police try to disperse them from their protest venue in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020.
Pro democracy demonstrators face water canons as police try to disperse them from their protest venue in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. (AP)

Demanding curbs on power

Protesters demand the removal of Prayuth, who first took power in a 2014 coup. He rejects protesters' accusations that he engineered last year's election to keep power. Breaking a longstanding taboo, protesters have also called for curbs on the power of the monarchy.

The Royal Palace has made no comment on the protests but the king said Thailand needed people who love the country and the monarchy. His comments were broadcast on state television on Friday as police clashed with protesters in Bangkok.

READ MORE: Bangkok streets witness show of force between protesters, royalists

The scenes of water cannon and protesters pushing back with umbrellas were similar to images from anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong, with which Thai activists make common cause.

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong tweeted a picture of himself giving the three-finger salute of Thai campaigners and holding up a #StandWithThailand hashtag.

"People should not be afraid of their governments," he said. "Only governments should be afraid of their people."

READ MORE: Thai police and anti-govt protesters scuffle ahead of demonstration

Source: TRTWorld and agencies