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Bangkok quiet as sides mull next move

BANGKOK -- The truce between Thailand's political rivals held in Bangkok on Friday amid more ceremonies in honor of the king's birthday, while the leader of the protest movement who has vowed to overthrow the government planned to announce his next move.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said earlier that the “battle” against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's administration would resume Friday. But the city was quiet and Suthep was due to give a speech in the evening.

Several days of violence that killed five people and wounded at least 289 ended abruptly Tuesday as both sides set aside their differences to honor King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who turned 86 Thursday.

Bhumibol is widely revered in a country sharply divided along social and political lines, and in a brief birthday speech he called for unity and stability. He did not directly mention the political turmoil, disappointing those who had hoped the visibly infirm king would use the occasion to broker peace, as he has in the past.

Although major celebrations ended Thursday, several more ceremonies are being held over the next few days to honor the king, including a reception Saturday hosted by Yingluck. Crown Princess Sirindhorn will represent the king at the reception.

On Friday, government spokesman Teerat Ratanasevi said Yingluck has canceled overseas trips scheduled for December, including visits to Myanmar, Japan and Russia, so she could stay in Thailand and monitor the political situation.

Although Bangkok is largely calm, tensions are still high. Three men were injured in incidents late Thursday and early Friday, including one man shot in the arm at the Finance Ministry, which is occupied by anti-government activists. Major Gen. Piya Uthayo, a police spokesman, said the violence was the work of unidentified people who wanted to disrupt the protesters.

The current standoff results from years of enmity between supporters and opponents of Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect for the king.

Thaksin, a billionaire with immense support among the country's poor rural residents, fled overseas to avoid a corruption conviction, but critics say he still controls Thai politics through his sister and his political machine.

On Thursday, onlookers wept as the king delivered his address at a palace in Hua Hin, the seaside town where he now lives.

“Our country has long experienced happiness because we have been united in performing our duties and working together for the good of the whole country,” the king said, his voice weak and halting. “All Thais should consider this very much and focus on doing their duties ... which are the security and stability of the country.”

The king's appearance renewed concern about his health and whether he physically is able to help heal the country's divide.

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A Thai Buddhist monk walks past the nearly empty parking lot of the Finance Ministry occupied by anti-government protesters in Bangkok on Friday, Dec. 6. Thai opposition protesters were preparing on Friday to relaunch their campaign to overthrow the government after a temporary truce in the strife-hit capital for the birthday of the country's revered king. (AFP)

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