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Cambodian opposition to defy ban on park meeting

March 27, 2014

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia’s opposition party said Thursday it will defy a government ban on meeting in one of the capital’s public parks, setting up a possible clash with authorities.

City officials said they would continue to enforce a ban on public demonstrations imposed three months ago after a spasm of political violence.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party is challenging the results of a general election last July that they allege was rigged by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party. Their protests demanding that Hun Sen step down and call new elections peaked late last year.

Unrest turned into deadly violence when the authorities used force in January to quell labor protests for a higher minimum wage for garment factory workers, increasing pressure on the government, which in turn banned most public protests in the capital. Labor unions have close links to the opposition, and Hun Sen has warned them to keep out of politics.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Sunday’s meeting was set to discuss a breakdown of talks with the government on the appointment of a special commission for electoral reform. He described it as a “people’s congress” to solicit the opinions of some 5,000 party members on what the opposition should do.

In a statement Thursday, his party vowed to go ahead with the meeting and invited foreign diplomats and Buddhist monks to attend in an evident effort to keep the government from cracking down too harshly.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said Thursday that Phnom Penh authorities turned down the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s request to use Freedom Park because the location was still part of a court investigation over the violence. He said the gathering could be held at party headquarters or any other private property.

Hun Sen alluded to the controversy without directly addressing it when he spoke Thursday at the inauguration of a dam in western Cambodia.

“Our country has its own constitution and laws. If you do anything outside of the law and cause violence, there will be no tolerance, and legal action will be taken,” he said.

Official election results extended Hun Sen’s 28-year rule and gave his party 68 seats in parliament, compared to 55 for the Cambodian National Rescue Party, a significant boost over the 29 seats the opposition had held in the previous assembly. The party says it was cheated out of a victory and has boycotted parliament, refusing to take the seats it won.

Update hourly