The political crisis that has engulfed Bangkok for more than a week has eased after the prime minister ordered police to stop battling anti-government protesters.
The move was timed to coincide with celebrations of the king’s birthday later this week, a holiday that holds deep significance in Thailand.
In a sharp reversal in strategy that followed two days of increasingly fierce street fighting, riot police lowered their shields and walked away from heavily fortified positions around Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s office at Government House.
Shortly afterward, thousands of jubilant demonstrators waving the Thai flag swarmed across the compound’s lawn, screaming “Victory belongs to the people.”
The government move was widely seen as offering demonstrators a face-saving way out, and the government expressed hope it would defuse a conflict that has killed four people and wounded more than 256 in the last three days alone.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, however, vowed to keep up what has become an audacious struggle to topple Ms Yingluck and keep her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, from returning to power.
Mr Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup, and Ms Yingluck’s rivals have repeatedly accused her of being his puppet.
The conflict pits the majority rural poor who back Shinawatra against an urban-based elite establishment that draws support from the army and staunch royalists.
The protesters demanded Ms Yingluck’s government hand power to an unelected council that would appoint a new premier – a demand she flatly rejected.
After an hour of speeches and cheering, they all filed back out systematically, as their leaders had instructed. The organised exit fuelled speculation that a deal had been struck behind closed doors.