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Associated Press
A woman walks near a portrait of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit on display, in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Thai protesters at police HQ before royal birthday

Associated Press
Anti-government protesters sweep streets in front of the Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Dec. 4. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

– Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra returned to her office Wednesday after five days away but her effort to show that normalcy was returning to Thailand after days of violent protests was upstaged by another rowdy rally at the national police headquarters.

Street fighting that had wracked pockets of Bangkok since the weekend abruptly ended Tuesday before the nation celebrates revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 86th birthday Thursday. Tensions are running high, though, because protesters have vowed to continue their “battle” after the holiday.

Although they pledged to march peacefully Wednesday, demonstrators knocked over concrete barriers, cut barbed wire and tried to scale the fences at the police compound in central Bangkok, which is across from some of the capital’s biggest and fanciest shopping malls.

The commotion didn’t last long. Police opened the gates to let the group of a few hundred protesters inside, and after claiming a symbolic victory the protesters filed out peacefully.

Authorities used the same strategy a day earlier at sites where violent clashes had erupted between police and protesters intent on seizing government offices, including the prime minister’s compound, known as Government House, and the nearby Metropolitan Police Headquarters, which are in Bangkok’s historic district.

The government’s move was widely seen as offering demonstrators a face-saving way out of a crisis that has killed four people and wounded more than 256 since the weekend.

The king’s birthday holds deep significance in Thailand, and many are looking to the king’s traditionally televised speech as an important indicator of how the palace views the protests.

Bhumibol is a constitutional monarch with no formal political role, but he has repeatedly brought calm in times of turbulence and is looked to as a moral guide and unifying figure in Thailand. Violence on the holiday would be a major sign of disrespect.

As part of the truce, thousands of protesters cleared out of their main gathering point at Democracy Monument. Cleanup crews scrubbed the sidewalks and streets around the Bangkok landmark, clearing mounds of trash and debris left by the protesters who had camped there for over a week.

Some of the fiercest clashes took place outside of Government House, where mobs had lobbed petrol bombs at police who fired back clouds of tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons.

On Wednesday, Yingluck returned to her office at Government House to meet with Cabinet ministers and senior economic officials, Thai media reported. She was scheduled to leave in the evening for the seaside town of Hua Hin, where the king will host official ceremonies for his birthday.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban vowed to keep up the struggle to topple Yingluck and uproot the influence of her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, from Thai politics. Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup, and Yingluck’s rivals have repeatedly accused her of being Thaksin’s puppet.

Suthep said that after a Thursday truce, “our battle” will resume early Friday.

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Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker, Todd Pitman, Grant Peck, Papitchaya Boonngok and Raul Gallego Abellan contributed to this report.

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