Page last updated at 10:49 GMT, Tuesday, 14 April 2009 11:49 UK

Army pressure ends Thai protest

Motorists drive through the burnt remains of buses on a Bangkok street
Debris and burnt buses still blocked Bangkok streets on Tuesday

Leaders of a lengthy anti-government protest in Thailand's capital have called an end to the stand-off.

Large groups of demonstrators who had been camped around the Government House left the area after thousands of troops moved to tighten a cordon overnight.

Speaking to the BBC from hiding, one protest leader said the retreat was "an honourable decision to save lives" but vowed that the movement would continue.

Two people died in clashes involving demonstrators and residents on Monday.

The red-shirted protesters, who had managed to shut down parts of Bangkok for the past three weeks, are demanding the resignation of Prime Minster Abhisit Vejjajiva.

I'm sad we've not received justice but if we'd have stayed we would have been in danger
Kannika Saikaew

Overnight the army hemmed in the several thousand activists, following a day of violent clashes with police and soldiers that left more than 120 people injured.

More soldiers then moved in, prompting the protest leaders to call on their remaining followers to go home to avoid further bloodshed.

The activists were searched for weapons as they left, and the security service brought in 60 buses to transport them from the prime minister's office.

Most of the leaders have now turned themselves over to authorities, others have gone into hiding.


One such protest leader, Jakrapap Penkair, told the BBC that the campaign may be taken underground - and he did not rule out non-peaceful means in the future to remove the current "disguised dictatorship".

"The protest is over, the campaign is not. It fell on deaf ears as expected, but the showing off of the people's power could have changed [the government's] mind slightly.

"We move fast to the second phase... when they will be forced to hear us six months to a year from now," he said, without giving any details.

Another protest leader said earlier that the demonstrations were halted to "prevent a catastrophe" as the activists were willing to "fight and sacrifice themselves".

As she left the sit-in, red-shirted protester Kannika Saikaew told the BBC: "I'm sad that we've not received justice, but if we'd have stayed we would have been in danger."

Map of Bangkok

Forty-year-old Atchiraya Noontit said: "I'm very disappointed but today we didn't lose. We will be back again when we have the chance."

After a weekend in which the prime minister's authority all but collapsed, Mr Abhisit has now been able to reassert his control, says BBC correspondent Jonathan Head in Bangkok.

But this remains a deeply divided society, with little consensus over who should govern it, he adds.

Thailand remains split between the urban and rural poor who support the ousted prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, and his foes in the traditional power cliques of the military and bureaucracy.

Mr Abhisit was appointed by parliament in December last year, after a court ruled that the previous government - allied to Mr Thaksin - was illegal.

Mr Thaksin now lives in exile. His red-shirted supporters in the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) accuse Mr Abhisit of being a puppet of the military.

They say he should resign so fresh elections can be held.

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