Thai protesters end rally at police HQ but say fight will go on

Thai protesters end rally at police HQ but say fight will go on
Anti-government protesters sweep the street around the Democracy monument after weeks of protesting and days of clashes with police in Bangkok's city centre December 4, 2013.

BANGKOK - Protesters in Thailand trying to bring down the government abruptly ended a rally at national police headquarters on Wednesday but their leader said the fight would go on despite efforts by authorities to defuse the crisis.

The military, which has staged or attempted 18 coups in the past 80 years, has kept its distance from the latest turmoil and the navy chief said he and top armed forces colleagues had ruled out intervening as the situation was returning to normal.

After days of violence in which five people were killed, authorities took the heat out of the confrontation on Tuesday, telling police to step aside and let protesters into state agencies they had besieged in a bid to topple the government.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said there would be a pause on Thursday out of respect for the 86th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is adored by many Thais, not least the anti-government demonstrators.

But the campaign would continue right after that, he said.

"We will start our fight again on December 6. We will start as dawn is breaking and we will fight every day until we get victory," he said in a speech to supporters late on Tuesday.

The protesters made their way into the grounds of the national police headquarters but failed to get past interior barriers and decided shortly after midday to give up the attempt.

Recalling the fraternization at state agencies on Tuesday after exchanges of teargas and petrol bombs the day before, hundreds of female officers replaced riot police at the barricades and waved goodbye to the protesters as both sides chanted "Long live the king!".

Suthep, 64, who resigned as an opposition Democrat Party lawmaker to lead the protests, wants a vaguely defined "people's council" to replace the government. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said that was unconstitutional.

The protests are the latest eruption of a conflict that pits the Bangkok-based establishment against mostly poorer Thais loyal to Yingluck and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile.

Addressing concern that the army might again step in, navy chief Admiral Narong Pipathanasai said he and the heads of the army and air force had met and had no plans to intervene.

"Everyone agreed that the military forces will not take a leading role in this situation and there will be no coup as we believe the tension is easing and everything will be back to normal soon," he told reporters.

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