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Thai anti-government protesters storm PM's compound as police look on

An anti-government protester celebrates after opening the gate of Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, on Tuesday.Wason Wanichakorn / AP

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thai police stood by and watched as protesters they have been battling for days broke down a gate and occupied the compound of the prime minister's office on Tuesday.

Hundreds of the demonstrators flooded the lawn of Government House in Bangkok, waving Thai flags, blowing whistles and shaking hands in a declaration of victory.

It was a brief and peaceful visit which the protesters touted as a symbolic victory. They left the compound at about 3.30 p.m. local time (3.30 a.m. ET).

Four people died and more than 256 were injured after clashes erupted Saturday between police and protesters aiming to topple Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

But police made the unexpected decision Tuesday to remove barricades holding back the masses, allowing them to cross previously-defended lines unchallenged.

Authorities previously met people on the streets with rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons. Some demonstrators commandeered bulldozers and tried to ram concrete barriers at various government offices.

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"This is a victory for the protesters," one man, Kusol Promualrat, told The Associated Press. He said that police pulled back "because they know that if this doesn't stop more people will get hurt, more people will die."

The government did not comment on the tactical move. But the U-turn suggests it no longer wants to confront the protesters after days of clashes that have raised concerns about the country's stability, the AP said Tuesday.

It was widely expected that an understanding would be reached to allow the protests to pause for King Bhumibol Adulyadej's birthday on Thursday. The king, who will be 86, is highly revered by all Thais and is seen as the sole uniting figure in the country.

Earlier, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told his supporters Monday to storm the Bangkok Metropolitan Police Bureau, one of the main buildings they vowed to seize in a campaign to topple Shinawatra's government.

In response, the prime minister said while she was willing to do anything to end the violent protests, she could not accept Suthep's demand to hand power to an unelected council.

The grounds of the police bureau was one of the areas protesters entered after it became clear authorities would no longer challenge them.

Shinawatra was elected in an overwhelming majority in 2011, but protesters say she is a puppet for her brother, Thaskin, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup but remains a focal point for the protesters' hatred.

Protesters say it is their main goal to uproot the political machine still orchestrated by the prime minister’s brother.

The flashpoints have been relatively confined in the city of 15 million, restricted to government areas and easy to avoid for disinterested citizens.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Alexander Smith reported from London.

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