3 Thai students detained as 'The Hunger Games' premiere spotlights political dispute



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BANGKOK — Police detained three students Thursday at the opening of the latest "Hunger Games" movie in Thailand, where opponents of May's military coup have adopted the film's three-finger salute as a sign of defiance.

The military-imposed government has banned the gesture, which symbolizes rebellion against totalitarian rule in the film series. One cinema chain in Thailand's capital canceled all screenings of the movie ahead of its Thursday opening after a student group planned an anti-coup protest outside one of its theaters. Activists said police pressured the chain to halt the showings.

Two student activists were detained outside a movie theater, and a third student was taken away by police inside a shopping mall cinema after raising a three-finger salute in front of a giant billboard for "The Hunger Games" latest installment, "Mockingjay — Part 1."

All three were released without charge. At least one, Nachacha Kongudom, had to sign a form promising she will not engage in political activity, according to lawyer Arnon Numpa.

"The 'Mockingjay' movie reflects what's happening in our society," Nachacha, 21, told The Associated Press before being led away. "When people have been suppressed for some time, they would want to resist and fight for their rights."

Fellow protester Ratthapol Supasopon said that although their actions in the past had been politically driven, on Thursday they were only going to watch a movie.

In "The Hunger Games," the three-finger salute signifies thanks, admiration and goodbye to a loved one. In the aftermath of Thailand's coup, some protesters adopted the salute as a form of silent opposition to the overthrow of an elected government.

Initial protests largely died out following crackdowns by the army and police, but here has been a small upsurge in recent days.

"What's happened today is an obstruction of the rights to express opinions peacefully," said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at the New York-based Human Rights Watch. "If the government wants to be accepted by other countries ... it is necessary that they respect these basic rights."

Five university students were briefly detained in northeastern Thailand on Wednesday after they stood up and gave the three-fingered salute during a speech by the coup leader and appointed prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha.

The students wore T-shirts saying "Don't Want a Coup" as they confronted Prayuth, who was speaking on a stage. Prayuth, who is usually prickly with critics, smiled and said: "Anyone else want to protest? Come quickly. Then I can continue with my speech."

The photos of the students raising their fingers in the air appeared on the front pages of most Thai newspapers Thursday.

Lionsgate, "Mockingjay's" Hollywood production company, had no comment on the situation in Thailand.


AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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