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Phnom Penh protest broken up

Publication Date : 05-01-2014


Move by heavily armed troops re-establishes grip of Cambodia's strongman, Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled for 28 years


Thousands of heavily armed troops broke up a prolonged protest in Phnom Penh, re-establishing the grip of Cambodia's strongman, Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled for 28 years.

Security units moved in yesterday on Freedom Park in central Phnom Penh. Men in plain clothes and armed with iron rods tore down a stage. They were supported by police and troops wielding shields, clubs and guns.

The few hundred opposition supporters who had camped there for weeks fled.

Security forces unleashed tear gas to scatter the crowd, and a few monks among the protesters were seen being beaten as they fled.

By the afternoon, only sleeping mats and blankets, pots and pans, abandoned clothes and slippers, a few chairs, and leaflets and banners remained.

"It was hired thugs and special forces armed with metal pipes and batons," opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) politician Mu Sochua told journalists. "Our supporters are totally dispersed."

The party has called off a massive march scheduled for today - one of a series it has been holding recently, which have attracted thousands disillusioned by the rule of Hun Sen and his Cambodian People's Party (CPP).

The opposition party accuses Hun Sen of cheating his way to victory in the July 2013 election. Then, the ruling Cambodian People's Party saw its majority cut from 90 to 68 seats, while the CNRP almost doubled its seats from 29 to 55.

Around Christmas, the government announced that the minimum monthly wage for garment workers would be fixed at US$95 this year, way below the $160 garment worker unions want.

At that point, protests escalated when garment workers went on strike, joining opposition protesters. The government upped the wage to $100, but failed to stem the anger.

The garment sector is a major engine of the economy, earning Cambodia close to $5 billion a year.

The outlying Veng Sreng industrial area is home to factories producing footware and apparel for global brands such as Adidas, Puma and H&M, among others. Up to 500,000 people - about 90 per cent of whom are women - are employed by the sector.

Yesterday, troops patrolled the streets in Veng Sreng, scene of a bloody clash last Friday, when at least four protesters were killed.

Passers-by jeered the troops, some taunting them by calling them hired Vietnamese. Sometimes they responded, shouting at passers-by and chasing them away.

Weeks of opposition protests against Hun Sen have had a strong anti-Vietnamese vein, tapping on fears of domination by Cambodia's powerful neighbour, a long-time ally of Hun Sen's.


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