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Thailand

Temporary calm in Thailand ahead of king's birthday

Security forces and protesters are observing a temporary truce as the nation prepares to mark the king's birthday. Mass demonstrations have been held in Bangkok for nearly a month calling for the prime minister to leave.

Anti-government protesters gathered on Wednesday at Bangkok's national police headquarters for a peaceful demonstration as part of the ongoing campaign to unseat Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

A day earlier, the embattled premier had ordered security forces to stop their resistance after several days of street battles with masked mobs that have left four people dead and more than 250 injured. Yingluck said police would no longer use force against protesters trying to storm her offices or the city police headquarters. Her order coincided with celebrations for King Bhumibol Adulyadej's 86th birthday on Thursday.

Protesters, however, have vowed to continue their rally against Yingluck's government and keep her controversial brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, from returning to power. Yingluck has been accused of being a puppet for Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives in a self-imposed exile to avoid a corruption conviction.

"You can rest assured that this is a victory that is only partial … because the tyrannical Thaksin government endures," said protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, adding that after Thursday's truce ended, "our battle" will begin.

Despite the renewed calls from protesters, the head of Thailand's National Security Council, Paradorn Pattanatabut, said he wasn't concerned about the protesters gathering on Wednesday.

"There movement today is merely to display their power and show that the protests are still continuing," he said.

Tension between Yingluck and her detractors came to a head last month when her Pheu Thai government attempted to pass a bill pardoning Thaksin and allow him to return to the country. Protesters seized several government offices last week.

However, a temporary calm returned after Tuesday's truce. Thailand's king, the world's longest-serving monarch, is viewed as a major moral authority and unifying figure in the country. Violence on his birthday would be viewed as a major sign of disrespect.

dr/hc (AFP, AP)