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Protesters breach police barricade

In jubilant scenes hard to imagine after days of clashes, protesters swept aside barricades in old Bangkok yesterday to occupy the grounds of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's office and warmly greet the police who, until just hours before, had rained teargas and rubber bullets upon them.

Cheering, flag-waving crowds marched through the gates of Government House, a heavily fortified flashpoint in a protracted protest aimed at toppling Ms Yingluck's government and banishing the influence of her brother, exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

"I feel great," said Supradith Kamlai, 70, a retired nurse there with thousands of other protesters after police were told to stand down yesterday morning. "We're so happy it's over."

But questions persist over how the hard-won breaching of police barricades would end the political deadlock.

As Thailand grapples with an uncertain future, it faces a fundamental question: can a crowd that dwindled to 9000 protesters yesterday alter the results of a democratic election in a country of 66 million people?

The earlier street battles suggested how quickly the country's dysfunctional politics could lurch back to violence again.

With Ms Yingluck's government still in place, and thousands of protesters still occupying the Finance Ministry and other government buildings, the police withdrawal felt like a temporary de-escalation of tension before the 86th birthday celebrations tomorrow of King Bhumibol Adulyudej, revered by the protesters.

Ms Yingluck shows no sign of heeding demands to either resign or call an election. "The government is still doing its job," her deputy Pongthep Thepkanchana told reporters.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban vowed to fight on.

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