Amid a standing ban on public assembly across Phnom Penh, the ruling CPP gathered some 20,000 of its supporters on Tuesday to mark the 35th anniversary of the fall of the Pol Pot regime, with senior party leaders using the occasion to attack the opposition and defend the CPP’s latest contested win at the polls.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and many of the CPP’s top brass presided over the brief festivities on Koh Pich to remember January 7, the day in 1979 that Vietnamese forces toppled the Khmer Rouge. But in his keynote address, National Assembly President Heng Samrin—the CPP’s honorary president—spent much of his 45 minutes attacking the CNRP.
After a song and dance show for the crowd, many of them students and members of government-aligned youth groups, Mr. Samrin recounted a brief history of the holiday and the country’s progress since.
“In the period over the past 35 years certain political forces and ill-willed circles have made constant attempts to change history from white to black or vice versa to aversely attack the leadership of the Cambodian People’s Party and realize their strategic ambition for power,” he said.
“They continue to consider themselves enemies of the January 7 victory, to make slanderous propaganda, to deceive the public, to disrespect the Constitution and existing laws while colluding to seek all means to deny the achievements scored by the Cambodian People’s Party for the country to cause political and socio-economic instability,” he continued.
The CNRP accuses the CPP of stealing July’s national election and has led several large marches through the city demanding that Mr. Hun Sen step down. The government ordered a ban on public assemblies on Saturday, the same day security forces violently cleared a park where opposition supporters had been peacefully gathering and camping out for several weeks.
Mr. Samrin said the CNRP’s calls for fresh elections and for Mr. Hun Sen to resign violated both the Constitution and the will of most Cambodians.
“No matter how hard they try, these actions will provide them with nothing but people’s frustration, disorder and dishonoring our nation,” he said.
The opposition has called for an end to January 7 as a national holiday and says the day should instead by lamented as the start of 10 years of Vietnamese occupation.
At a press conference at CNRP headquarters Tuesday morning, opposition leader Sam Rainsy accused the authorities of clearing the park of party supporters on Saturday specifically to prevent them from disrupting Tuesday’s January 7 celebrations with more protests.
“If we were to demonstrate, there would be even more people than before and this would be shameful for the CPP,” he said.
Mr. Rainsy also accused the CPP of paying the large crowd to come to Koh Pich Tuesday morning.
“It is not like us when we march for hours and cheer, ‘Hun Sen step down! Hun Sen step down! Hun Sen step down!’ and the people volunteered to come,” he said.
CPP lawmaker and party spokesman Cheam Yeap, who attended the January 7 event, denied that attendees were paid.
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