Thailand's government ordered police yesterday to stop confronting protesters demanding the resignation of the prime minister, raising hope that days of political violence may end, but the campaign's leader said the fight would go on.
Protesters opposing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had besieged various government buildings, including Government House, the complex that houses her offices.
After days of firing tear gas and rubber bullets to hold them off, police handed out roses to protesters after the barricades were brought down. 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 televised statement, again stressing she wanted the security forces to avoid loss of life.
Video: Thai police yield to protesters ahead of king's birthday
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 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.
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 their Democracy Monument base.
Tomorrow is the birthday of 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 Thammasat University in Bangkok. "The next step is negotiations, but what will be negotiated, nobody knows."
The government said it wanted to avoid more violence and ease tension for the birthday.
"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."
As demonstrators celebrated what they called a partial victory, Yingluck said she wanted to open talks with the protesters, academics and businesspeople to find a democratic solution.