Thousands Defy Gov’t Warnings to Protest

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.



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