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Tensions ease in Thailand as police remove barriers

Story highlights

  • The protest leader says the fight isn't over
  • Government and protesters agree to a truce, a security official says
  • Protesters are allowed past barricades at government and police offices
  • The situation appears calmer after several days of confrontations

Tensions eased in Thailand on Tuesday as police took down barricades in the capital and allowed anti-government demonstrators to enter the compounds of government buildings.

The Thai government said it had negotiated a truce with protesters for the next several days to honor the birthday of the country's deeply revered King. But the leader of the protests said the fight against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her exiled brother would continue.

Lt. Gen. Paradon Patthanathabut of the National Security Council said that thousands of protesters were allowed to enter the compound of Government House, the headquarters of Yingluck's administration and a key target of demonstrations in recent days.

Police also took down barriers in front of their metropolitan office Tuesday morning and allowed anti-government demonstrators to walk toward the building.

Paradon said Tuesday that the government and protesters had "mutually agreed to back down for the sake of our great father, our King." The world's longest-serving monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, turns 86 on Thursday.

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But Suthep Thaugsuban, who has led the demonstrations against Yingluck's government in pockets of central Bangkok in recent weeks, said the campaign wasn't over.

    "We will continue fighting until Thaksin's regime is definitively wiped out," he said, referring to Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled former Prime Minister and brother of Yingluck who is considered to retain considerable influence in Thailand.

    The secretary general to the Prime Minister said the demonstrators are calling for unconstitutional changes in the government.

    "The prime minister, she has clearly stated that she doesn't want to be the cause of conflict, she doesn't want to be the cause that leads to violence and bloodshed," said Suranand Vejjajiva. "The proposals of the protesters are undemocratic and unconstitutional. ... What they are trying to do is topple a democratically elected government, which is totally unacceptable by international standards."

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    Calmer atmosphere

    Under the direction of Suthep, a former deputy prime minister for the opposition Democrat Party, protesters have occupied various official buildings over the past 10 days.

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    The situation remained mostly peaceful until Saturday, when clashes between protesters and government supporters left three people dead and dozens wounded -- the worst civil unrest in Thailand since scores died amid a military crackdown on demonstrations in 2010.

    In the current crisis, confrontations between police and protesters also hardened over the weekend, despite repeated government promises that authorities wouldn't use violence. Tear gas canisters and rocks were flung back and forth across the barricades. On Monday, police said they used rubber bullets in some instances.

    Suthep had declared late Monday that some demonstrators would head for Bangkok's Metropolitan Police Bureau and "seize this police office for the people of Thailand." He made the comments after being told he faces an arrest warrant on insurrection charges.

    But by Tuesday morning, police appeared to have adopted a more conciliatory approach. After negotiating with protesters, they took down the concrete barriers that blocked the way to the Metropolitan Police Bureau and allowed thousands of demonstrators to file through.

    Some police officers shook hands with demonstrators, happily ushering them past in an area where tear gas had been fired during the night.

    Protesters responded with cheers and applause, claiming victory. Some of them hugged police officers and took photos with them. The mood on the streets changed noticeably -- a more carnival atmosphere returned with demonstrators blowing whistles.

    One of the senior protest organizers, Anchalee Paireerat, was heard announcing to a crowd "we will stop for now for our King's birthday" over a loud speaker mounted on a truck near Government House.

    Call to resign

    After meeting with Yingluck on Sunday, Suthep called on her to resign within two days. But the Prime Minister said Monday it would be unconstitutional for her to do so.

    Yingluck, who survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament last week, said she was open to further talks to resolve the crisis.

    The protesters stated goal of ridding Thailand of the "Thaksin regime" appears ambitious. Parties affiliated with Thaksin, who built his political success on populist policies that appealed to Thailand's rural heartland, have won every election in the country since 2001.

    Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and has spent most of the time since then in exile overseas. If he returns, he risks a two-year prison sentence on a corruption conviction, which he says was politically motivated.

    The current protests in Bangkok were prompted by a botched attempt by Yingluck's government to pass an amnesty bill that would have opened the door for her brother's return.

    That move added fuel for critics who accuse Yingluck of being nothing more than Thaksin's puppet, an allegation she has repeatedly denied.

    "The Prime Minister is her own woman," Vejjajiva said. "She listens to people, of course, but she makes her own decisions. He added that the amnesty bill is off the table.

    The military has remained on the sidelines of the current crisis. Yingluck said Monday that she believes the military is taking a neutral stance.