CPP Protesters Maraud Through Capital Streets

Opposition Backers Subdued on Sunday

Thousands of stick- and rock-toting demonstrators took to the streets Sunday to stump for the CPP and send a message to opposition supporters: Stay off the streets.

The well-organized group held a brief rally at Olympic Stadium before marching to the Royal Palace in a counter-demonstration apparently geared to blunt the pro-opposition protests that have been going on for the past three weeks.

“The most important thing is not to have a confrontation, but to show we have supporters,” said CPP spokesman Khieu Kan­ha­rith on Sunday.

The demonstration sent many Phnom Penh residents into their homes for fear of violence. It also seemed to keep most opposition supporters off the streets for the first time in weeks.

The demonstrators were protected by well-armed riot and military police, who cordoned streets and even escorted the marchers. Military police lined the main boulevards Sunday, some gripping their assault rifles in ready position and fingers near triggers.

 

The police protection was in sharp contrast to last week’s opposition demonstrations, when authorities or CPP supporters shot two people dead, shot and wounded at least 10 others and beat dozens with assault rifles and electric batons.

Witnesses said police also stood by Sunday at around 10 am when demonstrators trashed two shops opposite the stadium. “Not one of us in here yelled at or disturbed the protest in any way,” said Chhe Phal, a 24-year-old restaurant worker who was in the Chung Heng Thmei restaurant on Sihanouk Boulevard and Street 105 when it was attacked.

The police protection was in sharp contrast to last week’s op­po­­sition demonstrations, when au­­thorities or CPP supporters har­rassed marchers, shooting two people dead, shooting and wounding at least 10 and beating do­zens with assault rifles and elec­tric batons.

Witnesses said police also stood by Sunday at around 10 am when demonstrators trashed two shops opposite the stadium. “Not one of us in here yelled at or disturbed the protest in any way,” said Chhe Phal, a 24-year-old restaurant worker who was in the Chung Heng Thmei restaurant on Sihanouk Boulevard and Street 105 when it was attacked.

Afterwards, glass covered the floors and cupboards were clear­ed of dishes and food. “Everyone in the city fears this [CPP] de­mon­­stration,” said Ban Nget, a 30-year-old streetside cigarette seller near Olympic Stadium whose glass display case was smashed in the attacks.

Bamboo sticks, steel rods, and slingshots were among­­ the make­shift weapons carried by the kra­ma-wearing CPP supporters.

Medical workers and witnesses confirmed at least four beatings by demonstrators: two people in shops near Olympic Sta­di­um when demonstrators at­tack­ed; one man picked up by a Red Cross ambulance near Siha­nouk Boulevard; and another man, bleeding heavily from his head, near the Ministry of De­fense.

It was otherwise a peaceful ex­ercise for the up to 5,000 pro-CPP supporters. Most were solemn ex­cept when announcers prompted them to cheer “Cheyo!” or “Che­yo Hun Sen!” Announcers on loudspeakers mounted on trucks and cyclos shouted in fa­vor of the CPP and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen and lambasted opposition leaders as “traitors.”

Sam Rainsy continued Sunday to stay under the protection of the office of the representative of the UN secretary-general’s office, lo­cat­ed in the Hotel Sofitel Cam­bo­dia, where marchers stopped to shout anti-opposition slogans.

Man Chhoeun, municipal Ca­bi­net chief, said his office has not au­thorized Sunday’s demonstration. In principle, he said, Sun­day’s demonstration was illegal, but­ he asserted that the CPP de­monstration was different than op­position protests because parti­ci­pants did not incite police or “scold” public leaders.

Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said late Sun­­day that police did not disperse the CPP demonstration be­cause the party has not had a chance to demonstrate yet.

“Even though [the CPP] didn’t have it approved, they did not have any chance to express their will,” said Khieu Sopheak, citing three weeks of unapproved opposition demonstrations. “And now that is their chance to express their will, even illegally.”

A senior Interior official said the ministry is not approving any pub­lic demonstrations right now, but that police came out in force Sunday to protect the de­mon­strations. “All protests now are illegal, but the police have duty to protect demonstrators from violence,” he said.

Sunday’s demon­stra­tion at times was ugly. “If we see any Rainsy or Ranariddh supporters, we will shoot and kill them,” one group leader said over his ICOM radio. Another man scowled at onlookers and drag­ged a sharpened red-and-white steel rod noisily over the tiled stone walk in front of the palace.

Others laughed as they filled their pockets with rocks. Leaflets hand­ed out at the rally and CPP de­monstrators accused the opposition of disguising their supporters as monks.

Most participants were friendly, but declined to answer questions. A few re­por­ted being paid or pressured by their village chief to come and others said they joined the de­mon­stration freely. “I want the op­position protesters to stop, be­cause they have failed,” said Sok San, 40, from Kandal province. “If Hun Sen doesn’t work well, then in­ five years, vote for someone else.”

A military analyst said Sunday that most of the demonstrators his staff interviewed reported re­ceiving between 15,000 and 20,000 riel plus 10 kg of rice to par­­ticipate.

CPP “group leaders” organized the transportation for participants living outside Phnom Penh, in­cluding from Kandal, Kompong Speu, Kompong Cham and Ta­keo provinces, according to de­mon­strators. The procession’s move­ments were organized by CPP group leaders, according to demonstrators.

The demonstrators were truck­ed home after they received box­ed lunches in front of the palace. Khi­eu Kanha­rith implied that the demonstrators went home at mid-after­noon Sun­day to avoid a clash with opposition supporters.

There were still some pockets of opposition demonstrations Sun­day. Up to 200 people gather­ed at the US Embassy, one of the main sites of last week’s pro-opposition demonstrations de­manding that Hun Sen step down from his prime minister’s post. Near dark, police attempted to disband the demonstrators by firing about 10 rounds above the heads of the throngs near Moni­vong Boule­vard and Street 214.

Preparations for Sunday’s rally began Saturday when about 100 trucks with CPP supporters

pour­ed into the capital, mostly from Kandal province.

Many lounged for hours near the Royal Palace, the National Mu­seum and along the riverfront near the Cambo­diana. Others, some of them from Phnom Penh, carried sticks and got into clashes with opposition protesters.

At least five people were hurt in clashes near the US Embassy and the German Embassy on Sat­urday. Three were shot late afternoon amid flying rocks and gunshots on Monivong Boulevard and Street 214. At least one of the wounded appeared to have been a CPP protester shot by another CPP supporter.

By mid-afternoon Saturday, the truckloads of CPP supporters were streaming into Olympic Sta­dium, where they spent the night, supplied with food, wa­ter and kramas. Rock bands and a comedian entertained the crowd,­ estimated at between 3,000 and 5,000, until past 10:30 pm.

(Re­porting by Lor Chandara, Jeff Smith, Saing Soenthrith, Pin Sisovann, Kimsan Chantara and Marc Levy)

 

 

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