Thai government defuses confrontation, protest leader says not over

Thai government defuses confrontation, protest leader says not over

BANGKOK - Thailand's government ordered police on Tuesday to stop confronting protesters demanding the resignation of the prime minister, raising hope that days of political violence may end, but the leader of the campaign said the fight would go on.

The protesters opposing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had been besieging various government buildings, including Government House, the complex that houses her offices.

After days of firing teargas and rubber bullets to hold them off, police handed out roses to flag-waving protesters after the barricades were brought down. The protesters mingled with police, shouted slogans and left peacefully.

"The current political situation of our country has yet to return to normal, although it has begun to ease up," Yingluck said in a short televised statement, again stressing she wanted the security forces to avoid confrontation and loss of life.

The protests were the latest eruption of conflict between the Bangkok-based establishment and forces loyal to Yingluck and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Five people have been killed in clashes since the weekend and scores hurt. A heavy-handed crackdown would have raised questions about the government's survival and the possibility of the military stepping in to restore order.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said the campaign against what he called the "Thaksin regime" would continue.

Hundreds of demonstrators still occupy the Finance Ministry and a state administrative centre, but it remains unclear if Suthep will be able to motivate his people again. Police estimated that only 9,400 were still on the streets, including 5,500 at Democracy Monument, a roundabout in the old city that has been their base.

Thursday is the birthday of much-revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the protests are unlikely to continue on what is traditionally a day of prayer and celebration.

"It's a ceasefire, they don't want to crush each other just before the king's birthday. This is out of respect," said Nakarin Mektrairat, a political analyst at Bangkok's Thammasat University. "The next step is negotiations, but what will be negotiated, nobody knows."

The government said it wanted to avoid more violence and ease the tension for the king's birthday.

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