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Thai police cede ground to protesters

Shift in tactics follows days of deadly clashes

An antigovernment protester kissed a riot police officer during a rally in Bangkok Tuesday.

Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters

An antigovernment protester kissed a riot police officer during a rally in Bangkok Tuesday.

BANGKOK — Antigovernment protesters crossed heavily fortified barriers and reached the gates of the Thai prime minister’s office and the city police headquarters without resistance from police Tuesday.

Police used cranes to remove concrete slabs and barbed wire barricades on a road leading to the police headquarters after agreeing to let the protesters into the building. After bitterly resisting them with tear gas and rubber bullets since Saturday, police also stood by as protesters removed the barriers to the prime minister’s office and walked through on Tuesday.

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The unexpected return to a strategy of minimal resistance suggests the government no longer wants to confront the protesters after three days of clashes that have left three people dead and more than 230 injured and raised concerns about the country’s stability.

Government officials did not comment on the developments, and it was not clear if this would provide more than a lull to the violence and the crippling political deadlock that undermines Thailand’s democracy, economy, and tourism.

After breaching the barriers on the road, the protesters milled outside the gates of the prime minister’s office, known as Government House, and made no attempt to go through the gray gates of the sprawling compound.

‘‘This is a victory for us. This is a victory for the protesters,’’ said Kusol Promualrat, wearing a military camouflage green jacket, standing in front of the gate.

The police pulled back ‘‘because they know that if this doesn’t stop more people will get hurt, more people will die.’’

On Monday night, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told his supporters to storm the Bangkok Metropolitan Police Bureau, one of the main buildings they have vowed to seize as part of a campaign to topple the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

At the same time, Yingluck told a news conference that while she is willing to do anything it takes to end the violent protests, she cannot accept Suthep’s demand to hand power to an unelected council. Yingluck was elected with an overwhelming majority in 2011, and many observers see the protesters’ demand as unreasonable if not outlandish.

In some of the worst clashes since the protests began last week, protesters on Monday commandeered garbage trucks and bulldozers and tried to ram concrete barriers at the Government House and other offices. Police repelled them by firing tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets, as protesters shot back explosives from homemade rocket launchers.

The protesters, mostly middle-class Bangkok supporters of the opposition Democrat Party, accuse Yingluck of being a proxy for her elder brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He was deposed in a 2006 military coup but remains central to Thailand’s political crisis.

Until this past weekend, riot police generally avoided engaging the protesters.

Analysts said the protests could wind down very fast as the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej approached. The monarch, who is revered, turns 86 on Thursday.

Political instability has plagued Thailand since the military ousted Thaksin, who remains hugely popular among rural voters, in 2006.

Two years later, anti-Thaksin protesters occupied Bangkok’s two airports for a week after taking over the prime minister’s office for three months, and in 2010 pro-Thaksin protesters occupied downtown Bangkok for weeks in a standoff that ended with parts of the city in flames and more than 90 dead.

Material from The New York Times was used in this report.
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