The Phnom Penh municipal government has rejected a request from the opposition CNRP to hold a rally at the city’s so-called Freedom Park on Sunday to mark the 25th anniversary of the Paris Peace Agreements, contending it could not manage a crowd expected to number in the thousands.
The CNRP said it will go ahead with its plans anyway.
Following a meeting between government and CNRP officials on Wednesday morning to discuss the request, City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said the park—a barren expanse of concrete tiles—was not big enough to accommodate the proposed rally of 7,000 people.
“We can’t let them organize the event at Freedom Park the way they want to, but we can let them celebrate it at their headquarters or at any private place,” he said.
Mr. Measpheakdey said the city could allow no more than 200 people at the park.
“When there are thousands of people the question is: How many cars? And how many motorbikes? And where can they park?” he said.
“We can’t control it,” he added. “Yes, Freedom Park is the place of expression. But when there are too many people we can’t control it and there will be trouble.”
He said the request had been forwarded to the Interior Ministry for a final decision. Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached.
City Hall has accommodated crowds of more than 7,000 people at the space in the past without incident and even blocked off surrounding roads to manage the traffic.
But the park has just as often been the scene of state suppression. District security guards and plainclothes thugs wielding axes and clubs stormed the site in January 2014 to clear a peaceful protest camp set up by the CNRP. Freedom Park was subsequently fenced off with razor wire and dubbed officially off-limits to all protests until the following August.
Despite Wednesday’s rejection, CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang dismissed the government’s explanation and said the opposition would not change its plans.
“City Hall said they can’t accept the request because we will have many participants, but the CNRP will have it at Freedom Park because that’s where we can have tens of thousands of people,” he said.
“The CNRP has had demonstrations there with thousands of people and they could control it, so it’s not a problem,” he said. “If they crack down on us because we celebrate the anniversary of the Paris Peace Agreements, please tear up the agreement and throw it away.”