THAI anti-government protesters ended a three-week siege of the prime minister’s office today, easing fears for the time being that prolonged turmoil would further damage the economy.

“We have to stop because we need to look after the lives of our supporters,” said Jatuporn Prompan, one of the leaders of the red-shirted protesters loyal to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra who still commands widespread loyalty among the rural poor.

Thailand’s intractable political crisis broadly pits royalists, the military and the urban middle-class against the rural poor loyal to Thaksin.

“Overall, I don’t think this is the end of the story. This crisis still has a long way to go,” said Danny Richards, senior economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London.

“But in terms of this protest in itself, Abhisit has managed to remain in control, and I think you’d have to say he has avoided a major crisis of confidence in his government.”

Standard & Poor’s downgraded its local currency sovereign rating for Thailand and said political tension would remain high, whichever side was in power.

“We believe that investor confidence has been damaged significantly as a result of the latest developments while, in the near term, inbound tourism will also be affected negatively,” said S&P credit analyst Kim Eng Tan.

The tourist sector was barely picking up after a one-week shutdown of Bangkok’s airports by protesters opposed to Thaksin late last year when a government allied to him was in power.

Abhisit was made to look foolish after the “red shirts” forced the cancellation of an Asian summit in the resort of Pattaya on Saturday, an event the prime minister had trumpeted as proof that Thailand was returning to normal.

Protesters had already been camped around his office at Government House since March 26, demanding he resign and new elections be held,

But he restored some of his lost credibility after violent protests between red shirts and troops at a major junciton in the capital on Monday were put down without too much bloodshed.

A government minister and medical officers said two people died, both of them in skirmishes between residents and someone riding on a motorbike.

The Emergency Medical Institute said on Tuesday that 113 people, including soldiers, had been injured in the clashes.

The violence has damaged Thailand’s crucial tourist industry at a busy holiday time. Several countries have issued advisories on travel to Thailand.

However, a festive spirt returned on Tuesday, as people came out onto the streets to soak each other with water, a tradition of Songkran, the Thai New Year.

The government announced the three-day holiday would be extended for the rest of the week, although financial markets will open as normal on Thursday.

It said the extension was “in the interests of public safety” and would enable public facilities to be restored.

Little trouble was reported elsewhere in the country.

Sansern, the Army spokesman, said red-shirted protesters had tried to stop transmission of a state television channel in two places on Monday, and reports on Tuesday said some Thaksin supporters had mobilised in his northern Chiang Mai stronghold.

The “red shirts” vowed to continue the fight.

“This is not the end. We’ll be back. Our leaders will meet after Songkran to discuss our next move,” one protest leader, Nattawut Saikuar, told Reuters.

Abhisit, who declared a state of emergency in Bangkok on Sunday, told Reuters in the early hours of Tuesday it was a “do-or-die” moment for the rule of law and he would not negotiate with Thaksin.

He said dissolving parliament in order to hold elections could lead to electoral violence, but he would listen to the grievances of protesters.

“I’m not interested in making a deal with Thaksin,” he said.

“But I do listen to the concerns of some people who have joined the ‘red shirts’ in terms of democratic developments. In particular, if they are not satisfied with the constitution, if they think there may be some injustice in the system, I am happy to address those.”

Thaksin, ousted in a 2006 coup and living in exile to avoid jail on a corruption conviction, also popped up on international TV networks, claiming that many people had died yesterday.