Thailand's year of almost relentless protests ended on New Year's Eve, bringing hopes of calmer political waters in 2009 as seemingly weakened demonstrators suspended their siege of Parliament.
Thousands of loyalists of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra walked away from protest sites late Tuesday after the new government outwitted them and succeeded in delivering a vital policy speech which the demonstrators had tried to prevent by surrounding the Parliament building.
Instead, the lawmakers gathered quickly at the Foreign Ministry for the policy declaration before the protesters had a chance to react effectively.
"We'll have a small party tonight and disperse after midnight so that we can take time to celebrate the New Year festival," a protest leader, Veera Musigapong, said Tuesday night.
Fed up with both sides
Thailand has been rocked by protests by rival groups of demonstrators who either support or oppose Thaksin, once one of the country's richest men, who now lives in self-imposed exile after being forced from office in a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption.
Many Thais appear fed up with both camps after seeing their pocketbooks badly hurt by the upheaval, which wrecked the country's vital tourism industry after anti-Thaksin protesters seized Bangkok's two airports for a week.
In a New Year's message, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva called on all people to settle their differences in the coming year.
"Today is the last day of a year which brought great concern to everyone. I'd like all those worries to pass with the year and let us start a new one with hope. Let's make our wish come true," he said.
Although pro-Thaksin protest leaders indicated they would renew their pressure on the government sometime after the five-day national New Year's holiday, some wind appears to have been taken out of the movement's sails.
Its numbers have decreased in recent days and some participants grumbled that organizers were not paying them enough or providing free food and entertainment during rallies.
It is common practice in Thailand by all sides to beef up their demonstrations by paying anyone willing to join in. Free food and live music are also often offered.
Abhisit, Thailand's third prime minister in four months, promised in his policy speech Tuesday to heal the country's deep rifts and restore its international image.
He was forced to delay his speech by a day because of the anti-government protesters outside Parliament — the same street-swamping tactics that anti-Thaksin protesters had used before he came to power two weeks ago.
Abhisit was formally named prime minister Dec. 17 in a step that many hoped would bring peace.
But on Monday, thousands of Thaksin loyalists, who call themselves the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship, vowed to surround Parliament until new general elections are called.
The alliance — also known as the "red shirts" because of their clothes — is an eclectic mix of Thaksin loyalists, farmers and urban laborers.
They have demanded the new government dissolve the legislature and call general elections, which they believe the pro-Thaksin camp would win easily because of its strong rural base.
Abhisit's Democrat Party, which had been in opposition since 2001, heads a coalition that some analysts doubt is strong enough to last until the next scheduled general elections in 2011. But there is some optimism that it may remain in power long enough to restore some stability to the country.