Wat Rally Planned Despite Monks’ Request

At the urging of leading monks, the municipality has banned a student gathering at Wat Botum pagoda planned for Tuesday, according to municipal cabinet chief Mann Chhoeun.  

However, leaders of the Students’ Movement for Demo­cracy said Sunday they are going to defy the order.

This is the first time members of Phnom Penh’s religious community have pushed for a ban on a student gathering, claiming that to hold a rally at Wat Botum would be disrespectful.

Leading monks, including Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong, say to allow the students inside the pagoda would “undermine Buddhism.”

“We have to respect and follow the request of our monk leaders, so students also should not do any rally contrary to this,” Mann Chhoeun said.

Tuesday’s gathering is a religious ceremony rather than a political rally, according to Um Sam An, the student group’s deputy secretary general. He said participants will pray for dead pro-democracy supporters.

The prayer session will come roughly a year after student protests erupted against last year’s national election voting and ballot counting processes.

Those protests sparked several days of violent clashes between opposition party supporters, police and CPP supporters. Several people were killed and dozens injured in the fighting; others went missing.

At least four people were murdered in the wake of the protests, including one 19-year-old student. Police said two of the victims were part of a larger gang of robbers—a claim widely criticized by human rights workers.

The memory of last year’s deadly fighting is not too distant for officials who said the threat of a violent protest is another reason for banning the gathering.

“We are concerned about security in the city,” Mann Chhoeun said. “Because even in a religious ceremony people could slide easily into something political…So that’s why we ban them.”

Mann Chhoeun would not say what would happen if students actually try to gather Tuesday and instead pleaded with them to stay at home. He said there would be a police presence to deal with any disturbances.

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