A coalition of unions held a meeting Sunday on whether to demonstrate against the arrests of two journalists in the wake of anti-Thai riots. On the same day, more than 200 members of the pro-government Pagoda Boys Association gathered outside Wat Botum to show support for Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The coalition, the Cambodia Watchdog Council, had earlier called for the resignation of Hun Sen, a demand the group backed away from after the appearance of the Pagoda Boys.
“We have prepared a demonstration already to support Samdech Hun Sen,” Pagoda Boys Secretary-General Yi Mao said Sunday morning. “Our Constitution states that if someone wants to stop the prime minister before his mandate, it is a coup.”
Yi Mao said the Pagoda Boys had assembled in anticipation of an anti-Hun Sen demonstration, which he said would be a “bad idea,” and that the Pagoda Boys were to “appeal to them to stop.”
The show of pro-government strength effectively dissuaded council members from a planned anti-Hun Sen demonstration, union organizers said later.
The Watchdog Council, a group of five unions including factory workers and students, has called for the release of Beehive Radio owner Mam Sonando and Rasmei Angkor (Light of Angkor) newspaper Editor En Chan Sivatha, both of whom were arrested following anti-Thai riots Jan 29.
The Watchdog Council on Feb 1 had threatened to strike and demonstrate for the release of the two men and had called for Hun Sen’s resignation.
Workers will now stage a strike beginning Feb 17 calling for the release of the journalists only, said Chea Vichea, president of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
They will not demonstrate, however, for fear of violent clashes with the Pagoda Boys, Free Trade Union spokesman Phoung Monry said.
Workers from 66 factories will reduce their work schedule by one hour each day until Feb 24 when they will engage in a full strike, Chea Vichea said.
Despite CPP allegations that the council is a Sam Rainsy Party affiliate, party spokesman Phi Thach reaffirmed Sunday, “Those organizations have nothing to do with the Sam Rainsy Party.”
(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)