A group of about 100 monks who tried to gather in front of the Royal Palace on Thursday to implore King Norodom Sihamoni to reconsider his decision to convene the National Assembly on Monday were prevented from doing so by metal barriers manned by riot police.
Blocked from approaching the palace, the monks sat down in neat rows and began meditating in front of the barrier.
The Venerable Buth Buntenh, who said he had organized the demonstration, told reporters that the monks were praying for King Sihamoni to reconsider his decision to convene parliament in four days, as the current political impasse has yet to be resolved, leaving the country divided.
“Our country is not in unity yet,” he said.
“I am not saying the King should postpone [convening parliament] because the King had his own duty, but at least the King should spend time to see [that] his people are in danger…before holding the meeting of the National Assembly,” he added.
About 20 minutes into the monks’ prayer sit-in, about 20 municipal police, many wearing full riot gear and equipped with side arms, arrived at the scene.
The monks stood up and faced the security forces, separated by two layers of metal barricades. Some of the monks offered lotus flowers to the police, a number of whom accepted them and held them behind their riot shields.
Unhappy with their fraternization, a superior officer quickly took the flowers away and tossed them on the street behind the police line. Within about 30 minutes, many of the monks began to walk away and police left their posts along the barriers and mingled a few meters away.
Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said the monks were not allowed near the Royal Palace because their demonstration would have violated rules set out by the government against conducting peaceful demonstrations outside of Freedom Park.
“In front of the Royal Palace, that is the place for the King,” said Lt. Gen. Sopheak, adding that the monks’ efforts to persuade the King to delay the first session of parliament were futile.
“The King has already decided that he will preside over the first meeting of the National Assembly [on Monday]…. The monks when they are coming to do demonstration, do not respect the royals,” he added.
CNRP chief whip Son Chhay said the opposition hopes to collect 1 million thumbprints from members of the public for a petition calling on King Sihamoni to delay convening the National Assembly until the current political deadlock has been resolved.