Greeting his supporters at the largest opposition rally in Cambodia’s two decades of democracy, Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy said Friday that he had returned to the country to work together with the people to defeat the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
“I am very happy to meet all of our compatriots here. We will walk together and I am here with all of you to help rescue our nation,” he said, standing alongside CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha.
Standing on a platform atop an SUV, Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha, raising their hands in unison, began moving through a crowd that far surpassed the 20,000 people expected to show up at Phnom Penh International Airport for the opposition leader’s return.
Tens of thousands of supporters lined Russian Boulevard as a convoy of SUVs emblazoned with the CNRP’s rising sun logo slowly made their way to Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, where Mr. Rainsy delivered his first speech in the country in more than four years.
Mr. Rainsy fled in 2009 and has been living in France to avoid an 11-year prison sentence on convictions that were pardoned last week by King Norodom Sihamoni.
A request by Prime Minister Hun Sen to grant amnesty to Mr. Rainsy cleared the way for his return just days before national elections are held on July 28.
Over the next seven days, Mr. Rainsy is scheduled to take part in a whirlwind campaign tour, in which he will speak in 15 of Cambodia’s 24 provinces.
Since his eponymously named Sam Rainsy Party merged with Mr. Sokha’s Human Rights Party a year ago, Cambodia’s opposition movement has for the first time presented a united front to challenge Mr. Hun Sen’s CPP in national elections.
The CPP organized its own rally in Phnom Penh on Friday, which drew thousands of supporters as it snaked through the city.
After speaking at Freedom Park, Mr. Rainsy is scheduled to have lunch with supporters, attend a Buddhist ceremony and speak with the media.