City Hall on Wednesday morning took down the razor-wire barricades that have surrounded Freedom Park since April, allowing free access to the park for the first time since streets around it were blocked by two-meter metal barricades following the suppression of opposition protests in January.
Municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said that the park has been reopened because security and order had been restored in Phnom Penh following the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday of 55 opposition lawmakers who had been boycotting the National Assembly over claims that last July’s national election was rigged by the ruling CPP.
“The reason we reopened [Freedom Park] today was because we found the situation of security has been restored and returned to normal after we temporarily banned [the park’s use] because we have seen some NGOs and people and parties use it not according to the law,” Mr. Dimanche said.
He added that mass opposition demonstrations over the past year “resulted in violence and destruction of public property.”
On July 15, a CNRP protest to “Free the Freedom Park” was met with stick-wielding uniformed security guards who attempted to break up the demonstration. But after months of beatings at the hands of the security guards, the previously peaceful opposition supporters fought back, viciously beating a number of the guards.
Seven CNRP lawmakers and a party official who had been present at the protest were arrested in the following days on charges of leading an insurrection and incitement to commit a felony, charges that still stand despite the group of eight being released on bail on July 22.
Senior CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, who led a months-long campaign to reopen the park, said that the opposition would bring demonstrations back to the park only if it was blocked from moving its political agenda forward in parliament.
“We will come back to Freedom Park to protest if solutions cannot be found inside parliament,” she said. “But we will do our best to work inside parliament first.”
Ms. Sochua listed the opposition’s priorities as land issues, corruption, the judiciary, minimum wage and human rights violations.
“It depends on what other problems the supporters want us to fight for,” she said.
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