New protest upstages returning PM
Published 04/12/2013 | 07:16
Rowdy anti-government protesters have upstaged efforts by prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to show normality was returning to Thailand, with another rally.
After initially pledging to stage a peaceful march, protesters knocked over concrete barriers and forced their way into the police compound in Bangkok. But the commotion ended quickly, with police opening the gates to let protesters enter.
Authorities used the same strategy a day earlier at sites where violent clashes had erupted over the past several days between police and anti-government protesters trying to topple the government of Ms Yingluck, who has returned to her office after five days away.
The government's move was timed to coincide with national celebrations for the revered king's 86th birthday tomorrow.
The move to let protesters enter the site was widely seen as offering demonstrators a face-saving way out of a crisis that has killed four people and wounded more than 256 since the weekend.
The king's annual birthday celebration is a holiday that holds deep significance in Thailand, and many are looking to the king's traditionally televised speech tomorrow as an important indicator of how the palace views the recent protests.
Bhumibol is a constitutional monarch with no formal political role, but he has repeatedly brought calm in times of turbulence and is looked to as a moral guide and unifying figure in Thailand. Violence on the day of his birth would be a major sign of disrespect.
As part of the truce, thousands of protesters cleared out of their main gathering point at Democracy Monument. Clean-up crews scrubbed the pavements and streets around the Bangkok landmark, clearing mounds of rubbish and debris left by the protesters who had camped there for over a week.
Some of the fiercest clashes took place outside Government House, where mobs lobbed petrol bombs at police who fired back clouds of tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons.
Ms Yingluck returned to her office at Government House for the first time since Friday to meet cabinet ministers and senior economic officials, Thai media reported. She was scheduled to leave in the evening for the seaside town of Hua Hin, where the ageing king will host official ceremonies for his birthday.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban vowed yesterday to keep up the struggle to topple Ms Yingluck and uproot the influence of her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, from Thai politics. Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup, and Ms Yingluck's rivals have repeatedly accused her of being his puppet.
Ms Suthep said that after a truce tomorrow, "our battle" will begin again early on Friday.