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Thai anti-coup leader released on bail

Prominent Thai activist Sombat Boonngamanong, who led an anti-coup campaign using the three-finger salute from the "Hunger Games" films, has been freed on bail after nearly a month in detention.

BANGKOK: A prominent Thai activist who led an anti-coup campaign using the three-finger salute from the "Hunger Games" films has been freed on bail after nearly a month in detention, officials said on Wednesday.

Sombat Boonngamanong faces up to 14 years in jail on charges of incitement, computer crimes and ignoring a summons to turn himself in to the junta.

Following his release on Tuesday, Sombat was taken to another court in the northeastern province of Roi Et to hear a separate charge of insulting the monarchy, which carries a punishment of up to 15 years in prison.

That case, filed by a member of the public, relates to a photo that Sombat allegedly posted online, said Roi Et chief investigator Lieutenant Colonel Suriya Saengonta.

"He denied the charge and said he did not intend to insult the monarchy," Suriya said.

Sombat was one of several hundred politicians, activists, academics and journalists called in by the junta following the May 22 coup.

Sombat, the leader of a faction of the "Red Shirts" movement that broadly supports fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, refused to turn himself in, posting a message on Facebook saying: "Catch me if you can".

While on the run, he urged followers to stage peaceful public demonstrations, flashing the three-finger salute from "The Hunger Games" films that became a symbol of defiance against the junta.

He was later tracked down and arrested.

Sombat said on Wednesday that he was not mistreated while being questioned in military detention.

"They were very gentle. There was no intimidation, no physical contact at all," he said.

He said the legal cases against him were expected to proceed, and insisted that he did not insult the monarchy.

Sombat said his bail conditions restrict him from further political involvement.

"I have to stay still unlike in the past when I was involved in a lot of activities," he said.

The military banned public protests and temporarily imposed a night-time curfew after the coup, which followed months of mass opposition protests and political violence.

Critics see the coup as a pretext for a long-planned power grab by the military-backed royalist establishment to purge politics of the influence of Thaksin, who was himself ousted by the army in 2006.

The billionaire tycoon-turned-populist politician lives in Dubai to avoid jail for a corruption conviction.

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