Cambodia PM wants official protest venue moved out of town
Dec. 06, 2016
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia's leader has taken a poke at pro-democracy activists and a slap at the United States, suggesting that if the capital's designated political protest venue is not moved out of town, it might be situated in front of the U.S. Embassy.
Hun Sen said Tuesday that he plans to have Freedom Park — also known as Democracy Square — moved to a location six kilometers (3.6 miles) out of Phnom Penh. He said the existing park has become a site for anarchistic activity, which was inappropriate because of its central location and proximity to the historic Wat Phnom temple.
He said, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that if local advocacy groups supported by the United States objected, the park could be situated in front of the U.S. Embassy. The embassy is already quite near the park's present site.
Human rights groups and community organizations are among Hun Sen's biggest critics, and he has moved in recent years to place legal limits on their activities.
Hun Sen said that even if the new location is a bit far away, people could watch the protests on Facebook.
Hun Sen has been the country's autocratic ruler for three decades, even though Cambodia has a framework of democracy. He has pushed back against criticism by human rights groups and Western governments.
In remarks at the opening of a Coca-Cola bottling plant, he suggested that the United States was misguided to complain about Cambodia's treatment of protesters when anti-Trump demonstrators had been arrested in the United States in post-election protests, U.S. government-supported Radio Free Asia reported. Hun Sen had expressed his preference for Trump before the election.
Cambodian security forces are often brutal in suppressing demonstrations, and on occasion have killed protesters.
Accustomed to having his ruling Cambodian People's Party control the levers of power, Hun Sen was shocked when the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party staged a surprisingly strong showing in the 2013 general election.
Opposition leaders have faced legal cases against them over the past year in what is generally regarded as a government effort to weaken them ahead of nationwide local elections in 2017.
Freedom Park, set up in 2010, has been the site of demonstrations over labor rights and land grabs, as well as more general protests against Hun Sen's rule, especially by the Cambodia National Rescue Party. Despite being the designated venue for protests, it has been closed on occasion to demonstrators, leading once to brutal beatings by pro-government thugs of demonstrators defying a closure.