CNRP Marches on First Day of ‘Non-Stop’ Protests

More than 5,000 CNRP supporters marched through Phnom Penh on Sunday after opposition party leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha announced the beginning of what they said would be a non-stop mass demonstration until the CPP government of Prime Minister Hun Sen calls a new election.

A small squadron of traffic police walked about 100 meters in front of the protesters throughout the hour-long march, which studiously avoided major government buildings as it snaked along Monivong, Kampuchea Krom, Jawaharlal Nehru and Charles de Gaulle boulevards before returning to Freedom Park.

An opposition supporter holds a sign bearing the Khmer numeral for seven, the CNRP's position on ballot papers in July's national election, during a march through Phnom Penh on Sunday calling for Prime Minister Hun Sen to resign or call a new election. (Siv Channa)
An opposition supporter holds a sign bearing the Khmer numeral for seven, the CNRP’s position on ballot papers in July’s national election, during a march through Phnom Penh on Sunday calling for Prime Minister Hun Sen to resign or call a new election. (Siv Channa)

Police at times appeared more aware of the planned route of the apparently spontaneous march than the protesters, who chanted “Hun Sen, stand down!” throughout the demonstration.

Despite the large number of opposition supporters on the streets calling for Mr. Hun Sen to resign, Phnom Penh generally remained absent of the military police and riot police presence that has characterized previous CNRP rallies.

Phnom Penh municipal authorities said last week that they had rejected a request by the CNRP to march Sunday.

CNRP Director of Public Affairs Mu Sochua, who marched between the traffic police and a small group of party leaders including Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha, said things had gone so smoothly because of close cooperation with authorities.

“They knew that we would be gathering…[and] so I say thank you the traffic police for preparing for this to go ahead without traffic jams,” she said, explaining that fellow CNRP lawmaker-elect Ho Vann had told authorities of the route in advance of the march.

Sunday’s rally started at Freedom Park in the morning, with protesters expressing dismay at news delivered to them by Mr. Vann that although Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha would be appearing on stage, there would be no marching in the city. After a brief rain shower that sent some demonstrators rushing for cover, Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha arrived on stage just after 3 p.m. to announce that mass protests against the disputed official results of the July 28 national election were now entering their “second stage.”

“The CNRP demands a re-election and from now on the demonstrations will occur every single day and continue to spread to become larger,” Mr. Sokha told the crowd, adding that the demonstration would reach the provinces and would continue going “non-stop” until a new election is called.

“We will have three months of campaigning for a new election, and if there is still no response, we will take it to a third stage,” he said, without elaborating as to what the final stage would entail. Mr. Rainsy had announced the CNRP’s plans for non-stop protests through his Facebook page on Friday night.

Mr. Rainsy repeated an appeal he made on Tuesday in Siem Reap for Mr. Hun Sen to follow the example set by Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who recently called a new election in the face of mass protests.

Mr. Rainsy, who came under fire after that speech, in which he told Mr. Hun Sen to not to be “weaker than a female,” was more cautious with his choice of words Sunday.

“Don’t lose to the lady [Prime Minister Yingluck], who is a well-respected and good role model,” Mr. Rainsy said, before surprising the crowd by asking them if they wanted to march.

“We will walk on every street and shout: ‘Hun Sen, step down!’”

After the march, Mr. Sokha and Mr. Rainsy reiterated to supporters at Freedom Park that party leaders will not work with the CPP, and will only accept a new national election.

“If we go to negotiate with the CPP, we will be killing our own nation,” Mr. Sokha said, before handing the microphone to Mr. Rainsy to sign off.

“Are you tired?” Mr. Rainsy asked the crowd.

“No!” the crowd shouted in response.

“So we will meet every single day, when you leave from work, when you leave from school,” he said.

“At 4 p.m. every day, we will meet at Freedom Park.”

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