Labor Day Marches Planned Despite Ban From City Hall

Phnom Penh City Hall has rejected a request for two large-scale Labor Day marches on Sunday, but the unionists who have organized the demonstrations say they will proceed as planned.

Deputy municipal governor Khuong Sreng said he had met with Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, and Sar Mora, president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, at City Hall on Friday morning to discuss their plans for the annual holiday.

He said the labor leaders had asked for permission to march with their members through the capital, but he had rejected their request, telling them they could hold stationary ral­lies instead.

“We won’t let them march. This is an order from the Phnom Penh governor. It will cause disorder in public if they march,” Mr. Sreng said, adding that marches could lead to traffic congestion, repeating a familiar refrain.

“We gave them permission for one rally at Freedom Park and another rally at Olympic Stadium,” he said. “On the big [football] field, they can show their advocacy—that’s enough for a democratic country.”

Mr. Thorn disagreed. He said the 1,000-odd workers he hoped to marshall would not play by City Hall’s rules, and would instead congregate near Wat Phnom before marching to the National Assembly to deliver a petition calling for the government to raise the minimum wage for garment workers from $148 to $207. Mr. Mora said his group of 1,000 would meet at Olympic Stadium as requested but then travel to the Labor Ministry to drop off the petition.

“If City Hall blocks us, then we will stop,” Mr. Thorn said. “But they should understand when we are blocked, the traffic jam will last longer.”

Last year, more than 3,000 workers marched through Phnom Penh on Labor Day in defiance of a ban by City Hall, prompting Mr. Sreng to threaten Mr. Thorn and fellow unionist Vorn Pao with legal action.

The year before that, a Labor Day demonstration near the Naga Bridge on Norodom Boulevard was violently dispersed by police and government security guards, who beat protesters, journalists and bystanders with batons, wooden sticks and metal poles.

Mr. Mora said on Friday that he was perplexed by City Hall’s apparent fear of marches.

“Why is Cambodia different to other countries in the world? In many countries, they march on Labor Day,” he said.

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