The three-week standoff between supporters of Thailand's exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and government forces ended late Tuesday morning as protesters began to disperse amid fears of violence and reprisals.
The civil unrest has angered many Bangkok residents
Thai anti-government protesters ended a three-week siege of the prime minister's office and abandoned their positions around the Victory Monument in central Bangkok late Tuesday morning as they were surrounded by troops backed up by crowds of angry civilians fed up after several days of urban chaos.
The protests, which shut down a weekend summit meeting and ruined Bangkok's annual Buddhist New Year celebrations over the weekend, ended as concerns began to rise over a possible violent confrontation amid fears that renewed instability would further damage the economy.
"We have to stop because we need to look after the lives of our supporters," said Jatuporn Prompan, one of the leaders of the red-shirted protesters loyal to former premier Shinawatra who still commands widespread loyalty among the rural poor.
"We need to save the lives of every innocent citizen who aimed at nothing but to bring back democracy to the country," said Veera Musikapong, another protest leader, in a statement.
Thai police also said that four protest leaders, who had led the rioting, had voluntarily turned themselves in. Police said the four had been taken into custody for questioning.
Protesters had been camped at the government building for three weeks before an army crackdown started before dawn in Bangkok on Monday, and when violence flared two people were left dead and more than 100 wounded, including at least 23 soldiers.
Fear of reprisals brings protests to a close
Protest leaders were fearful that "right-wing thugs" would sweep in behind the troops to take revenge on their political rivals.
Protesters feared reprisals from the military and hard-liners
The opposition accused certain hard-line members of the government of organizing "thugs" to attack protesters last week. The rival yellow shirts, who helped bring down a pro-Thaksin government last year, had also threatened to reform and attack the pro-Thaksin demonstrators.
Jakrapob Penkair, a red-shirt strategist, said with so many "goons and gangsters" lurking around, there might even be a replay of the October 6, 1976 massacre of student demonstrators carried out by mobs of right-wing activists.
The 'red shirts' vowed to return, however.
"This is not the end. We'll be back. Our leaders will meet after Songkran to discuss our next move," one protest leader, Nattawut Saikuar, told Reuters.
There was deep disappointment on the faces of protesters - whose numbers hit 100,000 last week but dwindled to only a few thousand Tuesday - who managed to rock the government and shock the country.
Public opinion turns against Thaksin supporters
Shinawatra retains support - but not everyone is a fan
Many Bangkok residents are angry with the protesters - many of whom came from far outside the capital - for setting fire to buses and threatening to explode gas trucks near homes in the cause of a man many in the capital see as deeply corrupt.
Many Thais appeared stunned by the breakdown of law and order that threatened when the security forces appeared unable or unwilling to restrain the red-shirted protestors.
On Saturday a group of red-shirt protestors deeply embarrassed Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the military by invading a 16-nation Asian summit being hosted by Thailand at the seaside resort city of Pattaya, causing it to be cancelled.
Abhisit told reporters he would not negotiate with Thaksin. "We want peace. We want to violence to stop. And then we must work and talk to bring stability and happiness to the country," he said in brief remarks Tuesday morning.
Thaksin has incited his supporters to "revolution" and "historical change" in almost nightly addresses to the protesters via video link or phone from exile abroad. He faces a two-year prison sentence for corruption if he returns to Thailand.
The protesters want the government to resign to hold fresh elections which Thaksin, with his big rural support, might still win.
Abhisit's Democrat party gained power four months ago after the military and bureaucracy disabled pro-Thaksin governments and a parliamentary faction defected to the Democrats from the Thaksin camp.