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Page last updated at 08:40 GMT, Tuesday, 14 April 2009 09:40 UK

Thai red-shirts abandon protest

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Bangkok

Red-shirt protesters leaving their encampment
Protesters say they will not give up their fight for democracy

When dawn broke over Bangkok on Tuesday, many anti-government protesters had been promising to carry on until their demands were met.

But by midday they were collecting up their belongings and trudging away from their encampment around Government House.

It looked like a victory for the Thai security forces, which were able to herd the protesters slowly and peacefully out of their protest camp.

The stand-off between the protesters on one side and soldiers and police on the other had looked different just a few hours earlier.

Several thousand determined protesters, identified by their red shirts, were still camped out in the streets around Government House.

One of them, Somchai Srigham, said: "What we want is a return to democracy, not just for the red shirts, but also for the people of Thailand."

The 40-year-old added: "If Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva doesn't carry this out then will stay here."

Although they had been pushed back, the protesters were still manning roadblocks and checking people going in and out of their camp.

Soldiers wait for orders at a Bangkok road junction
The soldiers seemed relieved that the protesters were leaving

Trees that used to line the streets had been hacked down to form barricades, and one protester waited with what looked like a batch of Molotov cocktails.

The protesters were also trying to keep order in the camp; some swept up the assorted rubbish that had been thrown into the streets.

But the end came quickly a few hours later.

Protest leaders decided it was all over and played music over loudspeakers to bid their supporters farewell.

Demonstrators started leaving in ones and twos, and then in larger groups, some carrying posters of their patron, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Fight for democracy

Many clambered onto trucks that made their way slowly out of the camp. Those on board sang, cheered and waved flags.

A protest announcer appealed for the soldiers to go back home - but it was the protesters who were leaving in their droves.

Soldiers and police seemed happy to let the red shirts leave slowly - many chatted to the protesters as they left.

The soldiers, with rifles slung over their backs, moved slowly towards Government House, squeezing those remaining into an ever small space.

They looked far more relaxed than they had just a little earlier.

A burnt out bus in central Bangkok
Debris litters the streets around Government House

Some protesters told the BBC they had decided to leave because of the threat of injury from the heavily armed soldiers.

"We are leaving because the military are coming and we are ordinary people without anything to fight with," said Narumon Warunrungroj.

That was not strictly true. As soon as the 49-year-old housewife uttered these words, she pulled out a slingshot that had been tucked inside her trousers.

She was not the only middle-aged person among the crowd of protesters, many of whom had come from across the country to campaign for a "return to democracy".

That was what most protesters said they were campaigning for.

Mother-of-two Kannika Saikaew, a traditional masseur, had travelled nine hours by train from her home in Sisaket province to protest.

"I am here to support democracy," said the 37-year-old, who joined the protest in Bangkok at the end of last month.

Another protester was keen to explain that no one had forced ordinary people to come from across the country to protest.

"We came here voluntarily because of our own hearts. No one helped us. We paid for our own transport," said 40-year-old Atchiraya Noontip, from Pattaya.

Some said they would be back when they got the chance -but, for now, their protest is over.



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