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Thai protest leaders refuse to give up, but streets calm

Source: Reuters - Fri, 6 Dec 2013 06:49 AM
Author: Reuters
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BANGKOK, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Protesters seeking to topple Thailand's government stayed off the street on Friday after halting their demonstration the day before out of respect for the king on his birthday but clashes were reported overnight, one at the occupied Finance Ministry.

Leaders of the movement met at a sprawling government administrative centre also under occupation to debate how to breathe fresh life into their movement, showing no signs of giving up even through protest numbers have dwindled.

The protests are the latest eruption of a conflict that pits the Bangkok-based royalist establishment against mostly poorer Thais loyal to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban was due to address his supporters in the evening.

"Tonight, he will announce the plan from now until December 9, which is our ultimate deadline. There will be activities this weekend and we will fight harder than ever before," said Teerapa Promphan, a spokeswoman for the movement.

The protesters have missed successive deadlines for forcing Yingluck out. From Sunday to Tuesday they launched a wave of attacks on her office at Government House and other state buildings.

Police stepped aside on Tuesday and allowed them in, defusing the confrontation. The protesters stayed only briefly in the grounds of the offices they had been trying to storm before pulling back to their rally sites.

Five people have died in the political violence since last weekend, all apparently in clashes between pro- and anti-government supporters. Scores have been wounded, most through inhaling teargas.

Police and the government's emergency medical centre said three people were injured in two incidents overnight.

"At least one was sent for emergency medical treatment at Rajavithi hospital. He was injured at the Finance Ministry and his wound appears to be a gunshot wound," said Pornthep Saeheng, an official at the Erawan emergency centre.

Protesters have occupied the ministry since Nov. 25.

"A group of troublemakers on motorbikes drove towards the Finance Ministry and there was a gunfight near where protesters were gathered. One person was hurt," Adul Narongsak, deputy chief of Bangkok Metropolitan Police, told Reuters.

He said two people were injured when someone threw a "ping pong bomb", a small, crude explosive, at protesters near the Democracy Monument, one of the protesters' main rally sites.

With the crisis in a lull rather than over, Yingluck has cancelled a series of trips to Russia, Myanmar and Japan scheduled for this month.

The Thai baht remained weak on Friday at 32.34 per dollar, around a three-month low, and the stock market lost 1 percent, dropping far more than other Southeast Asian exchanges. (Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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