Anti-government protesters in Thailand are claiming a symbolic victory Tuesday after police allowed them to swarm into the prime minister’s compound and shout slogans.
The protests began Nov. 24 but turned violent two days ago when police clashed with demonstrators opposed to the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Four people were killed and more than 250 others wounded in the past three days, according to The Associated Press.
Protesters waved Thai flags at Government House on Tuesday and shouted, “Victory belongs to the people.” They left the compound an hour later, and police locked the gates again.
On the shift in tactics, the AP reports:
“The unexpected reversal of strategy by the government indicated it no longer wants to confront the protesters and is willing to compromise to ease tensions ahead of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 86th birthday on Thursday.
“As anti-government protesters celebrated on the Government House lawn, a leader announced through a loudspeaker that Wednesday would be devoted to cleaning up the debris at scattered protest sites to prepare for the king’s birthday.
“Government officials did not immediately comment on the developments, and it was not clear if the protest movement had ended or if this was merely a lull in the violence that might pick up again after the king’s birthday.”
The king is a revered figure in Thailand, and is seen as a unifying figure.
Protest leader Suthep Thausuban told his followers to celebrate the “partial victory,” but he added that the protests would continue until the “Thaksin influence” is swept from the country, according to the Bangkok Post.
That’s a reference, as we’ve said before, to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother.
Thaksin, a billionaire former telecommunications tycoon, was ousted in a military coup in 2006. He was convicted of corruption in 2008 and lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai. Protesters say Thaksin controls his sister’s government.
Thaksin remains a deeply polarizing figure in Thai politics. His supporters and opponents have battled since his ouster, and past clashes have been bloody. In 2010, his supporters occupied parts of Bangkok; 90 people were killed in the government crackdown that followed.
The AP has previously noted that, in broad terms, “the confrontation pits the Thai elite and the educated middle-class against Thaksin’s power base in the countryside, which benefited from populist policies designed to win over the rural poor.”
Indeed, Yingluck won the 2011 election in a landslide.
The protests have affected Thailand’s tourism revenues.