Thai protesters hug police, but enmities remain
By Andrew R.C. Marshall ,Reuters
December 4, 2013, 12:04 am TWN
BANGKOK -- In jubilant scenes hard to imagine after days of clashes, protesters swept aside barricades in old Bangkok on Tuesday to occupy the grounds of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's office and warmly greet the police who, until just hours before, had rained teargas and rubber bullets upon them.
Cheering, flag-waving crowds marched through the gates of Government House, a heavily fortified flashpoint in a protracted protest aimed at toppling Yingluck's government and banishing the influence of her brother, exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
“I feel great,” said Supradith Kamlai, 70, a retired nurse who thronged the area with thousands of other protesters after police were ordered to stand down on Tuesday morning. “We're so happy it's over.”
But, along with faint traces of teargas, questions persist over how the hard-won breaching of police barricades would end the political deadlock.
As Thailand grapples with an uncertain future, it faces a fundamental question: can a crowd that dwindled to 9,000 protesters on Tuesday alter the results of a democratic election in a country of 66 million people?
The speed with which street battles turned into smile fests suggested how quickly the country's dysfunctional politics could lurch back to violence again.
With Yingluck's government still in place, and thousands of protesters still occupying the Finance Ministry and other government buildings, the police withdrawal felt like a temporary de-escalation of tension before the 86th birthday celebrations on Thursday of King Bhumibol Adulyudej, revered by the protesters.
Yingluck shows no sign of heeding demands to either resign or call an election. “The government is still doing its job,” her deputy Pongthep Thepkanchana told Reuters.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban vowed to fight on.
“This is only a partial victory, it is not final,” he said at a government complex in north Bangkok at which his supporters are camped.
At Government House, protesters swarmed over its lawns, but did not occupy the building, where soldiers were stationed.
“We've won here. We don't need to take over Government House,” said Don, 58, who didn't want his full name used. “The fight isn't over, but we're winning.”