Thailand calm as people observe their monarch's birthday

Dec. 5, 2013 at 1:29 AM
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BANGKOK, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Thailand's anti-government protesters suspended their weeks-long campaign Thursday to observe the 86th birthday of the nation's revered monarch.

In his birthday message to the nation, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest serving head of state widely respected as a unifying force, urged all Thais to perform their duties, taking the unity of the nation into account, the Bangkok Nation reported.

The country has been wracked by protests, which recently turned violent, demanding the resignation of the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The protesters maintain the Yingluck government is controlled by her brother and former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin, a telecommunications billionaire who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and who has lived in exile since, is accused of influencing policies through his sister's government.

The monarch praised his people's love of their country, and urged them to do their duties according to their profession to keep the country stable, the Nation reported.

As his motorcade passed on Petchakasem road in front of the Klai Kangwon Palace to the Rajapracha Samakhom Pavilion, those along the road greeted him with repeated chorus of "Long Live the King."

Prime Minister Yingluck represented the government and Thai people in conveying their birthday greetings to the King. Supreme Commander Gen. Thanasak Pratimapakorn led military officers in taking an oath of loyalty to the King.

The protests, led by Suthep Thaugsuban from the opposition Democrat Party, could resume Friday, the report said.

Prime Minister Yingluck, who last week easily defeated a no-confidence motion in parliament where her party enjoys a majority, has refused to step down. The protests turned violent earlier this week during clashes with authorities, leaving at least three people dead.

However, ahead of the birthday celebrations of their monarch, police removed the barricades in front of government ministries and buildings, which helped bring calm to the capital. Earlier, the protesters had been storming various ministries in an effort to paralyze the government.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thailand's tourism industry, a major contributor to the country's economy, could be hit if the protests continue at a time when the tourism season normally is at its busiest.

Thus far, however, the Journal said several tourists it interviewed said they found Bangkok to be safe. But airlines and travel operators told the Journal that tourists who are yet to arrive in the country could change their plans, especially if the protests resume.

Prime Minister Yingluck's office said she has asked all agencies responsible for the nation's economy to speedily formulate strategy to rebuild investor and tourist confidence.

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