Thousands of opposition supporters marched across Phnom Penh on Sunday in defiance of the government’s strongest condemnation yet of the opposition protests.
“The government warns the opposition parties to stop immediately their anarchic, criminal acts and their aggressive violation of the law which are destroying the democracy obtained by the people,” the government said in a statement broadcast on state-owned TVK.
The statement accused the opposition, particularly Sam Rainsy, of attempting to bring down the legitimate government and creating a political crisis.
“The irresponsibility of opposition parties, especially the Sam Rainsy Party, has again and again turned democracy into a movement instigating violence, anarchy and dividing the nation,” it said, adding racist rhetoric was detrimental to Cambodia’s relations with other countries.
Despite the warning and disregarding a ban on the demonstration by municipal authorities, an estimated crowd of between 8,000 and 12,000 supporters gathered at the Olympic Stadium early Sunday. An estimated 10,000 gathered at the sit-in site by the National Assembly to hear opposition leader Sam Rainsy speak at 6 pm.
Sunday morning, Sam Rainsy again called on Second Prime Minister Hun Sen to step down and reiterated opposition demands for recounts and investigations into allegations of election fraud.
“If Hun Sen steps down from power we will smell the scent of democracy, we will see the true color of democracy,” he said. But he told the crowd he hoped King Norodom Sihanouk could negotiate a solution to the current political impasse at talks held in Siem Reap. “The King told the meeting [Saturday] that he will respect the will of the people. I will respect the King,” he said. If no solution were possible then the UN would have to return to Cambodia and hold another election, he told supporters.
The UN oversaw Cambodia’s first democratic elections in 1993. Last week, the King indicated he might ask UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to intervene if the political parties could not agree to form a new government.
Mindful of international criticism, Sam Rainsy also told the crowd to end attacks on ethnic Vietnamese. Last Sunday a similar demonstration in the capital saw a group vandalize the Cambodian-Vietnamese friendship monument.
The crowd left the Olympic Stadium and marched along Sihanouk Boulevard to the site of the opposition sit-in across from the National Assembly in the self-styled “Democracy Square.” Banners denounced Second Prime Minister Hun Sen and demanded an end to the CPP “dictatorship.”
In the park Sam Rainsy held aloft a sign saying “We love our King. We love democracy.” The CPP will either replace Hun Sen as its prime minister designate or the party will agree to hold a new election, he claimed. But he urged the CPP to reject a controversial seat formula which would give Hun Sen’s party a majority in the National Assembly.
Outgoing BLDP assembly member Kem Sokha, who was in the crowd, said he thought continued demonstrations would put pressure on those involved in the Siem Reap talks to find a solution.
“Finding a compromise depends on the strength of the demonstrations,” he said.