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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Tuesday called for a reduction in the use of martial law, which has been in place nationwide since he took power in a May coup, but made no mention of plans to scrap it.
The army imposed martial law days before the coup, which it said was necessary to prevent further bloodshed after months of protests that left nearly 30 people dead.
The prime minister's comments follow mounting pressure on the military government to abandon the law, which bans all political protests and gives the military sweeping powers of arrest and detention.
"We have substantially decreased the use of martial law, except in the case of urgent investigations and we have focused on using civilian courts and normal laws," said Prayuth, who is also the leader of the ruling junta.
"I have urged for a decrease in the use of military courts and martial law."
The junta's actions contradict its promises to respect civil and political rights, rights group Human Rights Watch said.
"The rolling crackdown on civil and political rights in Thailand continues without letup," Brad Adams, the group's Asia director, said in a statement.
On Monday, dozens of protesters, some holding anti-junta banners, gathered outside a military court in the capital, Bangkok, where four activists were held on charges of violating the ban on public gatherings.
Some shouted slogans demanding an end to the use of military tribunals which the junta said after the coup would replace civilian courts for the trial of some offences.
Last month, a proposal for the military to detain civilians for up to three months with no judicial oversight passed a third reading in the military-appointed parliament, despite calls by rights groups to scrap the law.
Thailand has been divided for a decade by rivalry between supporters of ousted former populist Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the Bangkok-based royalist and military establishment, which sees him as a threat.
Thaksin's sister, former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, was found guilty of corruption by a court in May and removed from office, days before the coup. Months of street protests in Bangkok were aimed at ousting Yingluck.
The junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order, has said it has no immediate plans to lift martial law, rejecting a call in January by a senior U.S. diplomat for such a move.
Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Clarence Fernandez