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Thai protesters scale back rallies

Opposition protesters in Thailand have been dismantling barricades in the capital, Bangkok, in the wake of renewed violence. A city park is becoming the focus for rallies aimed at bringing down the government.

Opposition demonstrators in Thailand who have blocked key intersections in Bangkok for weeks are moving to abandon their attempted "shutdown" of the capital, media reports said on Saturday.

Announcing the surprise move on Friday, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban however told supporters that the retreat did not mean an end to protests.

"We will stop closing Bangkok and give every intersection back to Bangkokians. We will stop closing Bangkok from Monday," he said, adding, "But we will escalate our shutdown of government ministries and Shinawatra businesses."

The protesters have been calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whom they see as being under the undue influence of her brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was ousted by the army in 2006 under suspicion of corruption and abuse of power.

Growing attacks

The announcement of a retreat comes after weeks of increasing violence that have seen around 20 people killed in Bangkok in bloodshed related to the protests.

Last Sunday,

two people were killed when a grenade was thrown into a busy shopping area near one protest site.

Army commander-in-chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha recently even warned of the danger of civil war if the two sides did not show some readiness to yield.

Single protest site

Suthep's supporters are to move to Bangkok's Lumpini Park, which is gradually turning into a tent city as more and more protesters take up position there.

The demonstrators have been occupying key areas in the capital since January 13.

Fresh elections called by Yingluck on February 2 failed to mollify the protesters,

who want to set up an unelected "people's council" to enact electoral changes before new polls in the hope of preventing parties loyal to Thaksin from winning.

Election re-runs are to be held on Sunday in five provinces where voting was obstructed by opposition supporters.

Thailand's political crisis largely pits middle-class opposition supporters in Bangkok and southern regions against supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin, most of whom live in northern rural areas.

Yingluck is currently facing negligence charges over a controversial rice subsidy scheme.

If found guilty, she could be removed from office and face a five-year ban from politics.

tj/slk (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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