At least 20 gunshots were fired by security guards and police, and four people suffered minor injuries as striking garment workers took to the streets for a second day of labor unrest Thursday.
Despite calls from all sides for restraint, union officials said the strike will continue today and expand to factories in two additional areas.
Katja Hemmerich, the spokeswoman for the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said, “This is no longer an FTU strike. It is bigger than that now.’’
She said workers voted late Thursday to continue demonstrations along Pochentong Boulevard, as well as at factories south of the city on National Route 2 and on the Veng Sreng Highway on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
Workers and management alike deplored the violence Thursday and said they hope it will not recur. “We are opposed to violence, and we told our people not to let themselves be provoked,’’ said Hemmerich.
Dozens of windows were shattered and a gate damaged at the June Textile Co Ltd when several hundred workers and their supporters attempted to storm the gate.
But bursts of gunfire from security guards and policemen’s AK-47s drove them back, as dozens of police officers formed a human barricade across the opening.
“Don’t shoot! Who ordered to shoot?’’ screamed one police officer standing at the gate. Police said a security guard fired the shots and would be arrested later. But on Thursday evening, a police official confirmed that both security guards and police had fired warning shots from inside the gates.
By day’s end, manufacturers and union leaders were exploring the possibility of talks. Labor officials urged workers to return to the job, saying the Labor Advisory Committee is awaiting a response from the unions before setting another meeting.
“We hope it will be soon,’’ said Hang Sitha, secretary to the committee.
Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association, said he, too, was awaiting word on possible talks.
“We expect the government to settle this violence,’’ he said. “It’s not even the workers, but people on the street, who are causing this violence and destroying private property.’’
Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara said that this morning, demonstrators will find twice as many police on the streets.
“If they try again, I will send police and military police very, very early,’’ he said. He said his officers arrived in force too late Thursday to prevent damage to the factory windows, but would not make that mistake again.
The day began quietly enough, with several hundred workers massing on Russian Confederation Boulevard in front of the large June Textile plant, as they had Wednesday.
But the crowd was edgier and included many more young men. Most garment factory workers are young women.
Tensions were so high that rumors ran rampant. Shortly after 9 am, a cry raced through the crowd: “They are beating someone at the side gate!’’ Demonstrators ran east along the boulevard, turning north down a dirt road to the gate.
As a mob began to shake the gate, others hurled rocks, bricks and rubble over the wall, breaking dozens of windows in a three-story building inside the compound.
“I am here because I support the workers,’’ said one young rock-thrower, who said he does not work in a factory.
Demonstrators surged through the gates, waving sticks and yelling as more rocks hurtled overhead. Then the first gunshots erupted, and the protesters scattered like a startled school of fish. In seconds, the crowded street was empty.
Witnesses said the bullets hit the roof of a security shack near the gate.
Several dozen police officers could be seen through the open gate, some making calming motions with their hands.
Once the gunfire subsided, the demonstrators gradually returned, eventually lining up inches from police who stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the gateway.
The standoff continued for nearly an hour, as rumors raced through the crowd that at least one demonstrator had been killed and varying numbers of others badly injured by bullets. However, no one was actually killed.
Shortly after 10 am, opposition party leader Sam Rainsy arrived. He led the demonstrators back to the boulevard, where he made a brief address.
“I urged both sides to refrain from any acts of violence, and urged a peaceful resolution,’’ he said later. “I hope negotiations can resume between the government, the workers and the manufacturers.’’
Late in the day, four Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians asked the government to convene a meeting “immediately’’ between management and workers to prevent further violence.
Two women suffering minor head wounds were treated at Kossamak Hospital. Doctors said the wounds were caused by blows from hard objects, not bullets.
Chao Chanda, 22, said she was terrified when she felt a blow on the back of her head and saw blood dripping down on her shirt. Her brother, Chao Srey Pao, said he will file a court complaint against the company, and called on the government to intervene.
Bot Samnang was so frightened by her bloody forehead injury that she begged reporters to contact her parents in Kompong Speu, fearing that she would die.