Clashes Break Out on First Day of Opposition Protest

Clashes broke out at a Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) demonstration on Sunday afternoon, with police firing tear gas and water cannons into the crowd, as the opposition began the first of three days of planned protests in Phnom Penh.

Despite orders from the Interior Ministry to contain demonstrations within Freedom Park, opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha led separate marches in the morning that began at CNRP offices in the city’s Tuol Kok and Meanchey districts, which later joined together at the corner of Monivong and Kampuchea Krom boulevards.

Taking up the entirety of the northbound lane of Monivong Boulevard, thousands of CNRP supporters—chanting for change and waving banners that read “long live democracy”—followed Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha into Freedom Park, where they were cheered by at least 30,000 opposition supporters who had gathered in the park and around nearby Wat Phnom.

Following speeches by Mr. Sokha and Mr. Rainsy in which they demanded an impartial investigation into election irregularities that they say prevented a CNRP victory, the opposition leaders led an impromptu parade of thousands of supporters to a Buddhist shrine on Phnom Penh’s riverside, where they lit incense and prayed with a group of Buddhist monks.

A number of razor-wire barricades, set up at the intersection of Sothearos Boulevard and Sisowath Quay, were pushed aside and overturned by a group of CNRP supporters following Mr. Rainsy to the shrine, causing a further buildup of riot police and water cannon trucks in the area, though there were no clashes between the security forces and protesters and the crowd eventually returned to Freedom Park.

As the morning went on, military and municipal police ramped up security around the city, putting up razor-wire barricades that blocked many of Phnom Penh’s major intersections and side streets around the Royal Palace, the Senate and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence near Independence Monument.

At about 3 p.m., opposition spokesman Yim Sovann told the crowd at Freedom Park to refrain from further marches until the CNRP and CPP meet for negotiations that are planned for Monday.

After a meeting convened by King Norodom Sihamoni on Saturday, the two parties agreed to meet for further talks aimed at solving the post-election impasse.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement last week that it would only allow demonstrations at Freedom Park to go on until 6 p.m. Sunday. However, CNRP leaders, along with many of their supporters gathered at Freedom Park, said that they had no plan to go home until their demands for an election investigation were met.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter and Hul Reaksmey)

© 2013, All rights reserved.