Thai Protests Abruptly Halt Ahead of King's Birthday

Following days of clashes in Bangkok, Thailand's prime minister is calling for all segments of society, including protesters, to work together to find a solution to the upheaval in the politically polarized country. A key opposition leader, however, is vowing to continue the struggle to bring down the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

The intensifying protests in Thailand's capital abruptly ceased Tuesday as police took down barricades and allowed protesters onto the grounds of Government House and other fortified compounds.

The apparent truce, ahead of Thursday's 86th birthday of Thailand's revered monarch, led to a scene hardly imaginable the previous day: a crowd of anti-government demonstrators sitting peacefully on the lawn of Government House, the seat of political power in Thailand.

But just what has been achieved by the temporary occupation of the grounds puzzles supporters, such as Saidin Chaohinfah, who said she is not sure whether her side has won or lost. They'll have to wait and see. But she said she talked with the police and they are happy, as well.

Tuesday's festivities are no guarantee that this conflict is over.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban celebrated the brief occupation of key government buildings, but admitted the goal of removing the Thaksin family from power remains incomplete.

At Government House, demonstrator Silapachai Nisapa noted the obvious: Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is still leading Thailand’s government.

He said the prime minister has to stop performing her duties and resign because a lot of people came out in protest to call for that.

Yingluck swept to power in the 2011 elections with a strong majority. But some of her government's policies have aroused public ire, in particular a controversial amnesty bill that could have paved the way for the return of her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, has been living in self-imposed exile to avoid facing corruption charges. He is believed to play a key role in setting government policy and remains popular in rural areas.

The weeks of protests in the capital are the largest in Thailand since 2010, but many Thais and political observers saw the demonstrators' demands to replace the democratically-elected government with a "people's council" as unreasonable.

Following the protests, the prime minister's fate remains unclear. With much of Thailand anticipating Thursday's birthday celebrations for the King, who is considered the sole uniting figure in the country, the prime minister made a brief televised appeal for all people to come together and work for a solution.

Whatever the eventual political outcome, the turmoil seems certain to affect Thailand's economy. The finance ministry says the country's growth rate may dip to three percent and its credit rating is also likely to fall.

VOA News / Dec. 04, 2013 08:19 KST