An anti-government protester hugs a policeman during a rally in Bangkok on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Bangkok, Dec. 3 (Reuters): Thailand’s government ordered police to stand down and allow protesters into state buildings today, removing a flashpoint for clashes and effectively bringing an end to days of violence in Bangkok in which five persons have died.
The protesters, who are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, entered the grounds of Government House, the complex that houses her office, but left peacefully.
Although the protesters are still on the streets, it appears that this bout of animosity between the Bangkok-based establishment and forces loyal to Yingluck and her brother, former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra, may be winding down.
Thursday is the birthday of much revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and the protesters are highly unlikely to continue their campaign on what is traditionally a day of prayer and celebration.
“The government is still doing its job. This morning we had a cabinet meeting as usual,” deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana said.
“We haven’t given up, but today the police have backed off because we see the protesters just want to seize these places as a symbolic action, so we want to compromise.”
He said Yingluck wanted to open talks with the protesters, academics and others to try to find a solution. She has refused to resign.
After weeks of protests that have brought clouds of tear gas, rubber bullets and intermittent gunfire to parts of Bangkok, the demonstrators celebrated the withdrawal of police and the dismantling of their barricades as a victory even though the government remains in place.
At Government House, protesters mingled with police they had been lobbing petrol bombs at the day before. Crowds later strolled through iron gates into the compound waving flags.
It was a similar scene outside the city police headquarters, where officers shook hands with protesters and handed some of them roses, before this group, too, marched away, apparently headed for the Democracy Monument intersection that has been their gathering point for weeks.
“We don’t want anyone to go inside and ruin government buildings,” said Brenda Nong, 51, a protester from Bangkok. “We’re good people. We’re here for democracy.”
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban had vilified the police in a speech to cheering supporters late yesterday and said the protesters would capture their city headquarters today. City police chief Kamronvit Thoopkrachang said his men would not resist the protesters.
“We have now ordered all police to withdraw. It is government policy to avoid confrontation,” Kamronvit said. Kamronvit is close to Thaksin, himself a former policeman and then a telecommunications tycoon, who became Thailand’s most popular politician.