Large sections of Phnom Penh were gridlocked on Monday morning as City Hall blocked off one of the busiest roads leading into the capital over fears opposition CNRP supporters would march as lawmakers delivered letters notifying embassies of the country’s deteriorating political situation.
Despite the roadblocks, three opposition lawmakers traveling by car visited 13 embassies, all signatories of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, seeking their help in prodding Prime Minister Hun Sen to stop the government’s “increasingly inhumane abuse of power.”
Huge traffic jams clogged many of the capital’s main streets throughout the morning after numerous roadblocks were set up on National Road 2 near the opposition headquarters, where monks and about 100 CNRP activists were gathered outside.
City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada said the blockades were to prevent CNRP supporters from marching through the capital.
“Our purpose was to prevent the marching of the CNRP as they did not have permission from the Phnom Penh municipal authority,” Mr. Chanyada said.
“We blocked the road to ensure we secured public order for people in Phnom Penh,” he added. “There is no ban on submitting a petition, but we banned marching.”
Mr. Chanyada downplayed the massive congestion that only began to ease once the roadblocks were removed after 11 a.m.
“We recognize there were some small effects, but we prepared road diversions and we asked for the people’s understanding,” he said. “It did not affect people’s daily lives.”
Delays caused by the blockades, however, resulted in widespread anger on social media.
A Facebook user named Laneth Lana posted a photo of her father lying on a car’s backseat, along with a message saying that authorities were blocking her from taking him to the hospital.
“I begged them to clear the way so I could take my father to hospital when he was groaning in the car needing treatment. Why such cruelty?” she asked.
Sok Hieng, 37, a garment worker at a factory near the CNRP headquarters, criticized the way the authorities handled the situation.
“I think blocking the road is affecting people, especially moto-taxi drivers and garment workers,” Mr. Hieng said. “I’m angry with the government because this is just a small event…. It wouldn’t have affected anyone.”
Supporters congregated outside the CNRP headquarters from about 7:30 a.m., waiting to hear the opposition’s plans for the day. The crowds dispersed about four hours later after lawmaker Son Chhay told them there were no plans for a demonstration and explained that lawmaker had already delivered letters to embassies.
The letters were delivered by CNRP lawmakers Mu Sochua, Long Botta and Ho Vann and signed by all 54 opposition parliamentarians, together with opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who was ousted from the National Assembly in November.
It denounced what are widely seen as politically motivated attacks on the opposition and civil society, including the current court cases against Mr. Rainsy and deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, and urged foreign countries to find solutions to “prevent the return of the policies and practices of the past.”
The CNRP has “observed that leaders from the ruling CPP have gravely violated the will of the Cambodian people, as defined by the Constitution, as well as the fundamental principles enshrined in the Paris Peace Agreement, through the increasingly inhumane abuse of power and suppression of public and personal freedoms,” it read.
Speaking outside the German Embassy, Ms. Sochua also lambasted the authorities for setting up the roadblocks.
“You can see that halting our freedom is an attempt to reduce the power of the opposition party,” Ms. Sochua said. “This today, the blocking of roads, not only gives us more importance, it blows up more grassroots awareness, people’s awareness.”
(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)
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