Thai king appeals for stability after violent protests
An anti-government protester poses with a placard showing Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej to celebrate his birthday in Bangkok on December 5, 2013
The kingdom remains on edge following several days of street clashes during demonstrations aimed at overthrowing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and curbing the political influence of her brother Thaksin.
Demonstrators and police in Bangkok have observed a temporary truce since Wednesday for birthday celebrations for King Bhumibol, who is treated as a near-deity by many Thais.
But protesters, who maintain their occupation of the finance ministry and a key government complex on the outskirts of Bangkok, have vowed to gear up their rallies again from Friday.
At a formal ceremony attended by dignitaries including the embattled premier, her political rivals and the nation's military heads, the king said the country "has been peaceful for a long time because everybody worked together".
"Every Thai should be aware of this and should perform their role for the benefit of the country, which is the stability and security of the country," he said in the speech broadcast on all television channels, without specifically mentioning recent unrest.
King Bhumibol, seen as a moral authority in the deeply divided nation, commonly delivers an annual address, but this year's remarks were eagerly awaited for any message to the country's opposing factions.
The streets near his seaside palace were awash with yellow Thursday as thousands of people wearing his signature colour turned out to celebrate in the central coastal town of Hua Hin, where he has lived since leaving hospital in August.
Kneeling supporters wept and shouted "Long live the King!" as the royal convoy made a brief tour of the town's streets before returning to the palace.
Any political action or violence during the public holiday would be seen as a serious sign of disrespect and demonstrators had tidied up a key rally site in Bangkok in preparation for the birthday festivities.
A huge portrait of the monarch had been erected at Democracy Monument near the capital's Grand Palace, where the tub-thumping speeches of a month-long anti-government rally briefly gave way to cheerful celebrations.
Hundreds gathered to watch the official birthday ceremony on big screens, cheering loudly at the appearance of the king, the world's longest-serving monarch.
But demonstrators, who erupted into angry jeers when Yingluck appeared on screen, were insistent that they had not abandoned their fight to oust the government.
"Tomorrow we will protest," said Khieu, who gave only one name and sported a large, neon yellow "We Love the King" headband.
"I will come back until we win victory for the Thai people," she added.
Satit Wongnongtauy, a leading figure in the anti-government rallies, told the crowd that after the anniversary had passed "we will carry on", with protests expected to intensify over the weekend.
While numbers have fallen sharply since an estimated 180,000 people joined an opposition rally on November 24, demonstrators have besieged high profile buildings in what some observers believe is an attempt to provoke a military putsch.
Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon to repel protesters in the unrest at the weekend that left five dead and over 200 injured.
The demonstrators want to suspend the country's democracy in favour of an unelected "people's council".
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy premier who now has an arrest warrant for insurrection against him, has pledged to rid Thailand of what he calls the "Thaksin regime".
Thailand has been periodically rocked by sometimes bloody unrest since then-premier Thaksin was deposed by royalist generals in a coup seven years ago.
He went into exile in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction which he says was politically motivated, but critics say he still controls his sister behind the scenes.
Thailand's political conflict broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and royalist elite backed by the military, against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin, a billionaire businessman-turned-populist politician.
The recent protests were triggered by an amnesty bill, since abandoned by Yingluck's ruling party, which opponents feared would have allowed Thaksin to return home.
They mark the biggest clashes since dozens of people were killed in a crackdown on mass pro-Thaksin rallies in Bangkok three years ago.
King Bhumibol has suffered from a range of ailments in recent years and lived in a Bangkok hospital from 2009.
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