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Protesters stand down in Bangkok

LEADERS of demonstrations that plunged the Thai capital into chaos yesterday called off their protests following rioting that left two dead and more than 120 injured across Bangkok.

Police issued warrants for 14 protest leaders, including the former prime minister whose ouster is at the heart of three years of political turmoil.

The swift and unexpected resolution ended with a final crowd of 2,000 die-hard protesters dutifully lining up for waiting government buses to take them home.

There were no confrontations with the combat troops ringing the demonstrators' last stronghold, or any visible anger. Many demonstrators looked broken, tired and almost in shock.

Thailand's deputy police commissioner, Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit, told The Associated Press that four of the protest leaders had surrendered and would be interrogated. They were seen taken away to nearby police headquarters.

Thaksin sought

Later, metropolitan police spokesman Suporn Pansua said the Bangkok Criminal Court issued arrest warrants against 14 protest leaders including deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who went into self-imposed exile last year before a court convicted him of violating a conflict of interest law.

The arrest warrants cited the protest leaders for creating a public disturbance and illegal assembly, which carry prison terms of up to seven and three years respectively.

"We have decided to call off the rally today because many brothers and sisters have been hurt and killed," said key protest leader Suporn Attawong. "And we will not allow more deaths."

Jakrapob Penkair, another protest leader, also said the movement, which is demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and new elections, "will continue fighting." The leaders did not specify what they would do next.

The protests were only the latest in a long-simmering conflict between two rival groups that was set off by the 2006 coup that removed Thaksin from power. His supporters, the "red shirts," are drawn largely from the impoverished countryside where he is popular for his populist policies.

They took to the streets after protests of their rivals - the "yellow shirts" - brought the country to a halt last year by occupying the seat of government and the capital's airports. Those demonstrations, led by a mix of royalists, academics, professionals and retired military who oppose Thaksin, broke up only after court rulings removed his allies from power. Abhisit was later appointed prime minister.

The government announced it was adding two more days to the three-day Thai New Year holiday, which began on Monday, to ensure safety and repair damage from the violence. Despite the turmoil, thousands of Thais, along with foreign tourists, reveled through the night and doused each other with water to usher in the New Year.


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