Thailand's anti-government protesters have temporarily abandoned their street barricades and quit mass demonstrations aimed at shutting down the capital and ousting the country's premier.
But the protesters vowed to regroup at a central location in Bangkok and continue their efforts to force the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was returned to power last month in an election boycotted by the opposition.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who has called for Yingluck to be replaced by an unelected council, said in his nightly speech Friday that the protesters would withdraw from several stages erected at key intersections around Bangkok, The Associated Press reports.
Starting Monday, Suthep said, the protests will consolidate at Lumpini Park, a central venue that has become a traditional protest site.
He described the move as a token of appreciation for Bangkok's residents and businesses, which have been inconvenienced for months by the mass rallies.
Suthep's People's Democratic Reform Committee acted not because the government sought to chase them out "but because we care about Bangkok and would like to return it to its owner," he said, according to the AP.
The protesters have surrounded key government buildings, requiring the prime minister to operate her government from remote locations. Several people have been killed in recent weeks in confrontations between pro-government and anti-government activists and between Suthep's protesters and police charged with dismantling the demonstrations.
The Bangkok Post characterized Suthep's speech as "filled with jibes at 'missing' Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra" and her "second capital" in the northern city of Chiang Mai.
The Post said:
"[Suthep] said the Bangkok Shutdown campaign had served its purpose and now was time for a new push to oust the 'stubborn' caretaker government."
"'If this was any other country in the world, we would have won by now,' he said."
"Although Mr Suthep has insisted he will never negotiate, as the government's resignation is his only goal, some observers see his decision as a sign that the standoff has entered a new phase."
The AP reports:
"Suthep's announcement came a day after he made a highly conditional offer to negotiate with Yingluck, shifting from the absolute refusal he maintained for months."
"Yingluck ... responded that her government wants negotiations, but that the protesters must stop blocking elections and other constitutional processes, and that it was her duty to defend democracy."
Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted in a 2006 military coup. Suthep, a government minister in a successive civilian government, oversaw a bloody crackdown on pro-Thaksin protesters in 2010. He and the prime minister at the time, Abhisit Vejjajiva, have been charged with murder in connection with the incident that killed about 100 protesters.