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Bangkok relatively quiet as sides mull next moves after speech by Thai king

An elderly man listens to King Bhumibol Adulyadej make a speech on a giant screen, on the king's 86th birthday at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. Thailand put politics aside Thursday to celebrate the 86th birthday of the country's revered monarch, who used his annual birthday speech to call for stability but made no direct reference to the crisis that has deeply divided the nation. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

BANGKOK - The truce between Thailand's political rivals held in Bangkok on Friday amid more ceremonies in honour of the king's birthday, while the leader of the protest movement who has vowed to overthrow the government was expected to announce his next move.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban had said earlier that the "battle" against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's administration would begin again Friday. But the city was quiet and Suthep was due to give a speech in the evening.

Several days of violence that killed five people and wounded at least 289 ended abruptly Tuesday as both sides set aside their differences to honour King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who turned 86 Thursday.

Bhumibol is a figure of national reverence in a country sharply divided along social and political lines, and in a brief speech he called for unity and stability. Other than a few vague hints, though, he did not mention the political turmoil, disappointing those who hoped the visibly infirm king would use the occasion to broker peace, as he has in the past.

Although major celebrations ended Thursday, several more of ceremonies are being held over the next few days to honour the king, including a Saturday reception hosted by Yingluck, and neither side is likely to break the truce until those have ended. Crown Princess Sirindhorn will represent the king at the reception.

Although Bangkok is largely calm, tensions are still high. Three men were injured in incidents late Thursday and early Friday, including one man shot in the arm at the Finance Ministry, which is occupied by anti-government activists. Major Gen. Piya Uthayo, a police spokeman, said the violence was the work of unidentified people who wanted to disrupt the protesters.

The current standoff results from years of enmity between supporters and opponents of Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect for the king.

Thaksin, a billionaire with immense support among the country's poor, rural residents, fled overseas to avoid a corruption conviction, but critics say he still controls Thai politics through his sister and his political machine.

On Thursday, onlookers wept as the king delivered his Thursday address at a palace in Hua Hin, the seaside town where he now lives.

"Our country has long experienced happiness because we have been united in performing our duties and working together for the good of the whole country," the king said, his voice weak and halting. "All Thais should consider this very much and focus on doing their duties ... which are the security and stability of the country."

The king's appearance renewed concern about his health and whether he physically is able to help heal the country's divide.

News from © The Associated Press, 2013
The Associated Press

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