The Sam Rainsy Party on Wednesday asked Phnom Penh municipality for permission to lead more than 10,000 supporters in a rally to welcome the opposition leader on his return, party officials said Wednesday.
Opposition party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang said the public gathering would be held at Phnom Penh International Airport and at Sam Rainsy Party headquarters, with many supporters also following the opposition leader’s convoy as it drives into town.
Eng Chhay Eang said the municipality is obliged to approve the request to hold a rally because it recently approved a request by the Cambodian Higher Education Association to stage an anti-Sam Rainsy demonstration.
“If the municipality blocks us and only allows the other group it means our country has no democratic processes,” he said.
Eng Chhay Eang also said he wasn’t concerned about the possibility of violent clashes between pro- and anti-Sam Rainsy groups, arguing that it was the responsibility of the authorities to prevent such incidents.
Cambodian Higher Education Association President Seng Phally said his group still plans to hold a demonstration against the self-exiled opposition leader. The anti-Rainsy demonstration would be held at the airport as well, he added.
Seng Phally also claimed that his organization had already received permission from the municipality and the Ministry of Interior to demonstrate.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment, and Phnom Penh First Deputy Governor Mam Bun Neang said he was too busy to speak with a reporter.
Government spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said demonstrations should not be held at the airport, suggesting that pro- and anti-Rainsy demonstrators instead find separate places for their respective rallies.
“The airport is a sensitive place,” he said. “They shouldn’t choose that place.”
“If a bomb exploded, it would affect tourism,” he added.
Center for Social Development President Chea Vannath expressed concern as well, saying she feared the dueling demonstrations could result in violent confrontations.