Thai protesters suspend rallies

A wall of heavily-armed Thai troops closes in on protesters in central Bangkok.
Thousands of protesters who had amassed for days outside the government headquarters in Bangkok dispersed Tuesday after a top leader called on them to suspend their rallies until after the Thai New Year celebrations.

Soon after the leader, Veera Muksikapong, made his announcement, protesters left by foot or on motorcycles from the area around the Government House. A woman, with a picture of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra around her neck, cried on a phone that the demonstrators were losing their battle. The Thai New Year, or Songkran, began Monday and is traditionally celebrated over several days. It is expected to wind down on Thursday. Earlier Tuesday, demonstrators set fire to two buses and chopped down trees to block police access to the Government House. Soldiers in armored vehicles maintained a cordon around the protesters. But the two sides stayed out of each other’s way.

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A day earlier, clashes killed two people and left at least 113 others, including more than two dozen soldiers, wounded. Watch a report on the call for a suspension of rallies » Demonstrators commandeered buses, rigged the steering wheels and sent them toward police officers, who fired at the vehicles in response. iReport: See images from the protests They hurled gasoline bombs, blocked intersections and set fires in many parts of the capital. Scores of riot police descended on the streets and fired tear gas canisters and live bullets.

COLOR CODERED SHIRTSUnited Front for Democracy against Dictatorship Support Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra Makeup Mainly from outside the cities and the poor Demand More money to combat poverty YELLOW SHIRTS The royal color and symbol of the People’s Alliance for Democracy Support Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva Makeup Monarchists, wealthier Thais Demand Conservative economics and values and a strong military

The “red shirt” protesters — named for their clothing — want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to step down, saying his 4-month-old administration is not democratically elected. They want the prime minister to call new elections. iReport: Numerous buses set ablaze Abhisit has ignored their repeated deadlines to resign. “He insists under the circumstances, where there is a lot of deep division in the society … resigning won’t solve any standing conflict,” his spokesman, Panitan Wattanayagorn, said Tuesday. On Sunday, Abhisit declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas after the protesters forced the postponement of a summit of Asian leaders in the southern coastal city of Pattaya, embarrassing the government. The demonstrators are loyal to Thaksin, who was ousted in a bloodless coup in 2006. He fled the country last year while facing trial on corruption charges that he says are politically motivated. Watch Thaksin denounce government »

Thaksin has told supporters that he is willing to return to lead the demonstrators, which he repeated to CNN on Tuesday. “Well, you know I am ready to go when the time is right,” Thaksin said. “But now, I like to see peaceful protests by the demonstrators. Actually, you know, they are all innocent people. They come with bare hand; they are asking for true democracy and justice. But they got back undemocratic ways with a lot of brutal suppression.”