The Phnom Penh Municipality on Friday said it would only allow 10,000 protesters to attend the opposition party’s planned mass-demonstration next week and that the demonstrators would not be allowed to leave Freedom Park.
On Friday, the municipality officially rejected the CNRP request to hold a three-day demonstration with 20,000 to 50,000 participants, and a 20,000-people-strong march to U.N. offices and several foreign embassies was also not permitted.
City Hall spokesperson Long Dimanche said on Friday that the municipality could only allow a maximum of 10,000 protesters—the capacity of Freedom Park—and that if the CNRP’s protest would exceed that number, it would need special permission from the Ministry of Interior.
“It is not within the authority of Phnom Penh City Hall to [give permission] for a rally joined by 20,000 to 50,000 people and a march to embassies with 20,000 people, as the CNRP has asked for,” in a letter sent Thursday, Mr. Dimanche said.
“We do not allow them to march to embassies because we can imagine what happens when 20,000 protesters march on the streets; it will affect the traffic, public security and there might be acts of violence,” Mr. Dimanche said, adding that City Hall would forward the request to the Ministry of Interior on Friday night.
Officials from the Ministry of Interior could not be reached for comment, but National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said that the number of protesters made no difference.
“For the police, it doesn’t matter how many. If they hold the demonstration peacefully there is no problem. What is a concern is if they don’t obey public order or the law…. We won’t count one two, three, four, five [protesters] and then not allow them to enter Freedom Park,” Mr. Chantharith said.
He declined to comment on whether police would step in if the demonstrators tried to march through Phnom Penh without permission, but said that police had to protect public order.
“If they violate a law, that is a big problem,” Mr. Chantharith said.
National military police spokesman Kheng Tito said that police had not decided whether or not to barricade streets in Phnom Penh for the three days of planned protests starting on Wednesday.
“If the situation calls for it, we will block some main roads. It won’t be worse than last time because we have learned from before,” he said, referring to the three-day protest held by the CNRP at Freedom Park in mid-September, which caused traffic chaos and left residents of the city resentful of the harshness of the police response.
The CNRP said that on October 23, the first day of the three-day protest, which will coincide with the anniversary of the signing of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement, supporters will march to the U.N. offices to submit a petition. On October 24 and 25, they also plan to march to the embassies of France, Japan, the U.S., China, Indonesia, the U.K. and Australia.
Long Ry, a CNRP lawmaker-elect, said that despite City Hall’s rejection of their plans, the protest and marches would go ahead.
He said that the opposition expected at least 20,000 people to join the protest at Freedom Park and a minimum of 10,000 to march through the streets.
“We expect 10,000 people will march to submit a petition [asking to implement] the Paris Peace Agreements to the embassies in Phnom Penh,” Mr. Ry said.