But they did appear to be packing up and there was a sense of relief in the air, he said.

Prateep Ungsongtham Hata, a protest leader, told the AFP news agency that leaders held talks throughout the night and "agreed that we will disperse our protesters for a while".

"But our leaders will not surrender," she added.

Showdown averted

Just hours earlier, protesters were preparing themselves for more confrontations with the military on Tuesday after troops moved in on them early on Monday after weeks of relatively peaceful demonstrations.

In depth


 Interview: Thaksin speaks
 Background: Who's who
 Economy: Vital tourist trade threatened
 Focus: Scarred by 'Mad Monday'
 Interview: What the Red Shirts want
 Timeline: Thai crisis
 Pictures: Power struggle
 Profile: Thaksin Shinawatra

It even appeared that violence was going to break out again as troops advanced in the morning and protesters rushed to man barricades with sticks, petrol bombs and machetes.

But those tensions eased somewhat after troops moved back from their forward positions without new clashes taking place.

Refusing the protesters' demand to resign and dissolve parliament, Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister, had urged the protesters to go home.

Abhisit praised the efforts of security forces, saying they used "soft means" and "prevented as much damage as possible", a view disputed by Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled former prime minister ousted in a 2006 coup who most of the protesters support.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Thaksin accused the military of firing at protesters and covering up killings by taking dead bodies away.

Satit Wongnongtaey, a minister in the prime minister's office, said two men were shot dead in clashes between demonstrators and local residents on Monday.

Abhisit said the news that the two people had been killed and 12 wounded in a gun battle between protesters and residents at Nang Lerng market was "a regrettable incident".

But he had said that "with the co-operation of the public, I believe success is near".

Residents v protesters

Reported clashes between Bangkok residents and protesters on Monday were probably a sign of frustration by the city's residents who are largely anti-Thaksin and firmly behind Abhisit's government, our correspondent explained.

They formed the core of the Yellow Shirts' protests last year against successive pro-Thaksin prime ministers that culminated in the shutdown of the city's two airports and court rulings ordering the dissolution of the government, paving the way for Abhisit to take power in December.

Bands of Yellow Shirts - a loose alliance of royalists, military and urban elites who oppose Thaksin - reportedly clashed with the Red Shirts on Monday night as well, our correspondent said.

More than 100 people were also injured in violence on Monday that raged for more than 12 hours as protesters fought a series of running street battles with armed soldiers.

Following calls by protest leaders on Monday for the Red Shirts to regroup at their Government House base from several flashpoints across the city, soldiers had ringed the area in what was expected to be a final push to end the demonstrations that have rocked a country still reeling from last year's chaos and the global financial crisis.