Philip Ruddock, who served as Australia’s immigration minister between 1996 and 2003 and now serves as the government’s chief parliamentary whip, has described Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government as a “one-party state,” and said that Australia is concerned about the shooting deaths of five strike protesters in January.
The opposition CNRP was on Monday barred from holding a ceremony to honor the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk at a new statue of the revered monarch, and was also not invited to an official event Tuesday to mark the one year anniversary of his death, CNRP officials said.
On Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen, King Norodom Sihamoni, Queen Mother Norodom Monineath and senior government officials inaugurated a $1.2 million bronze statue of the late King Father, but the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers-elect did not attend the event, claiming they were only notified of it at the last minute and that the required government dress code precluded their participation.
The CNRP on Monday hosted a traditional Buddhist ceremony at the party’s Tuol Kok district headquarters to pay their respects to Norodom Sihanouk—who died on October 15 last year at the age of 89—but scrapped a plan to visit the memorial in the park near Independence Monument following an order from City Hall to keep away from the site.
The only activity near the statue on Monday, however, was the arrival of some 200 riot police officers ahead of the CNRP’s planned visit to the statue at 2 p.m.
“It wasn’t just the CNRP lawmakers. Nobody was allowed to pay their respects to the King today, because they needed to clean and prepare the place for the anniversary tomorrow,” municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, who served in the Royal Cabinet of Norodom Sihanouk before becoming a member of the CNRP’s steering committee earlier this year, said the ban on the opposition’s ceremony—because the statue needed cleaning ahead of the one year anniversary—was purely political.
“It was just a pretense, because they don’t want the CNRP to hold a ceremony before them,” Prince Thomico said.
“The CPP has a hold on the monarchy, and all of the monarchy’s symbols, and they want to be first [to honor Norodom Sihanouk],” the Prince said.
Asked why the cleaning efforts should prevent the CNRP from gathering at the statue, deputy Chamkar Mon district police chief Heang Thareth said: “You already know why,” declining to comment further.
Following the Buddhist ceremony at their headquarters to honor the late King, CNRP vice president Kem Sokha told reporters that his party had also been effectively prohibited from attending today’s anniversary event.
“We requested to pay our respect [at Norodom Sihanouk’s statue] from the National Committee for Organizing National and International Festivals…and they told us to wait until after October 15,” Mr. Sokha said.
“We will not go to pay our respects at the statue with the rest of the government, but we will go separately at another time,” he added.
Chhin Ketana, secretary-general of the festival organizing committee, confirmed that the opposition’s 55 lawmakers-elect were not scheduled to attend the one year anniversary.
“The ceremony will be held at 7 a.m. at the King’s statue…. Representatives of all government institutions will be there,” Mr. Ketana said. He declined to comment further.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the party has also requested—from both the festival organizing committee and the Royal Cabinet—permission to hold a small, separate ceremony tomorrow morning at the Royal Palace.
“Six people appointed by the party…will go to the palace to pay their respects…if we receive permission, but so far, we did not receive any reply,” Mr. Sovann said.
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