SIEM REAP CITY – Opposition leader Sam Rainsy was greeted Tuesday by 15,000 supporters and a small dust storm at the CNRP’s first post-election rally in Siem Reap, where he once again called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to stand down.
Arriving on a scheduled flight from Phnom Penh, where he had also led a march in the morning, Mr. Rainsy descended on the small Angkor Kyung Yu Park in Siem Reap’s outskirts to raucous cheers just before 4 p.m.
Accompanied not by his deputy, Kem Sokha, but by his wife, Tioulong Saumura, Mr. Rainsy took to the stage apologizing for the CNRP vice president’s unexplained absence but praising the high turnout at the park.
“Some said that when we celebrate International Human Rights Day, holding a ceremony here would be useless because not enough people would come—it would be enough to do it in Phnom Penh,” Mr. Rainsy said.
“But look—the presence here is the same in Phnom Penh today. We’ve met together in a rice field, but [the] number of people here is the same as in the city.”
Mr. Rainsy promised to hold future demonstrations in both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and said that sentiment against Mr. Hun Sen after the disputed July national election was high enough to sustain even nationwide protests.
Continuing a theme ever present at opposition rallies, Mr. Rainsy turned his focus to Vietnamese encroachment and immigration to Cambodia.
“Many yuon and foreigners come to take jobs from Khmer people and to take Cambodia territory,” he said to cheers, using a term for Vietnamese people often consider pejorative.
“They urge Khmer go to Thailand instead,” he said. “Many go and they are happy, and then they bring yuon in to replace Khmer—so we vote for change!”
The opposition leader then called on Mr. Hun Sen to either stand down or call a new election, citing recent events in Thailand as a possible example to follow.
“I appeal to Prime Minister Hun Sen; I ask one thing: Mr. Hun Sen, don’t be weaker than a female,” he said.
“There is [a] female Prime Minister in Thailand named Yingluck Shinawatra. Please applaud Yingluck Shinawatra: People protested to demand her to step down and she agreed to hold a re-election,” Mr. Rainsy said, as the crowd roared with laughter.
“Why is Mr. Hun Sen weaker than a female?”
At 4:30 p.m. Mr. Rainsy read out a long roster of CNRP lawmakers-elect present at the rally and announced the beginning of the day’s second round of marches.
Mr. Rainsy, once again flanked by his wife, led the march toward National Road 6, where military police waited casually and provincial police lined the middle of the road to direct traffic around the marchers.
In the lead-up to the rally, Siem Riep provincial authorities had said they would not allow marching, but emotions were calm on both sides with marchers patting appreciative police officers on the back and saying thank you.
Opposition supporters frequently shouted “Hun Sen: Weaker than a Woman!” as their circuitous route took them through the west of Siem Reap City, across the city’s small river and into the tourist district.
Turning onto Sivatha Road, a major tourist thoroughfare, Mr. Rainsy was greeted by a sidewalk lined with restaurant and guesthouse staff as well as bemused tourists.
Mr. Rainsy clasped the hands of the wait staff along the street, with a group of women at one point fighting a battle with his security guards to pull him over a line of parked motorcycles to hug and kiss him.
Charging past the brightly lit Pub Street and appearing to pick up more people as it moved onward, the march arrived at the Royal Gardens, its final destination, under the cover of darkness just before 6:30 p.m.
Mr. Rainsy lit incense, prayed and hung flowers on the two statues that make up the Preah Ang Chek and Preah Eng Chorm shrine at the garden for good luck, before climbing into a waiting SUV to be driven away.
CNRP lawmaker-elect Kuoy Bunroeun said Mr. Rainsy and Ms. Saumura were headed to Kompong Thom province, where they and other members of the opposition will today visit the logging-ravaged forest of Prey Long.