Four opposition CNRP lawmakers-elect were arrested by police Tuesday morning after clashes broke out between district security guards and protesters near the heavily secured Freedom Park in Phnom Penh, where the four were leading a demonstration.
Clashes broke out at about 8 a.m. when Daun Penh district security guards began arguing with the protesters, who had flooded the area on Norodom Boulevard from multiple directions to support the protest led by CNRP public affairs chief Mu Sochua, who was among those arrested.
The protesters, some of whom were wearing shirts reading “Free the Freedom Park,” and the notoriously violent guards began scuffling near the Ministry of Public Works and Transport on Norodom Boulevard.
Turning the tables on months of fighting between guards and protesters near the sealed-off park, which has seen multiple opposition supporters viciously beaten for their attempts to enter the park, the protesters began beating the ill-prepared guards.
“At least six security guards are seriously injured after being beaten by protesters,” said Phnom Penh deputy municipal police chief Chuon Narin, who was directing the Freedom Park operation.
When the clashes broke out, the district security guards attempted to flee the scene, running in various directions.
Some guards too slow to escape the protesters were pushed to the ground and then kicked, punched and beaten viciously with sticks. One, identified as Chhay Pitou, was beaten almost to the point of unconsciousness and was taken to Calmette Hospital for treatment.
Police then began firing smoke bombs to disperse the crowd. Ms. Sochua, who was accompanied by CNRP lawmakers-elect Men Sothavrin and Keo Phirum, were then prevented from leaving the scene.
With journalists and rights workers cleared away from the razor-wire fence facing Norodom Boulevard, the three opposition lawmakers-elect were led away from the locked-down Freedom Park area by police just after 10 a.m.
The three were transported to Phnom Penh municipal police headquarters for questioning. Ho Vann, another CNRP lawmaker-elect who took part in the morning’s demonstration, led a convoy of opposition supporters to the police headquarters, at which point he was also arrested.
“So far, four [CNRP lawmakers-elect] have been arrested and are being held at police headquarters for questioning,” said deputy municipal governor Khuong Sreng.
The four CNRP officials remained in detention throughout the afternoon.
Mr. Sreng said that 37 security guards were injured during the clash.
“In total, 37 municipal security guards were injured, of which six were seriously injured and two others are in emergency care with critical injuries,” he said.
“Whenever there’s violence, the leaders of demonstration must be immediately arrested for questioning and investigation.”
Mr. Narin, the deputy municipal police chief who was in charge of the operation, said the three arrested were not lawmakers.
“No lawmakers were arrested, police only arrested three crazy people,” he said. “Lawmakers would not act crazily at Freedom Park.”
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith confirmed that the protesters who fought back against the helmeted Daun Penh district security guards were opposition supporters and not impostors or agent provocateurs.
“There was no third party, but it was the security guards who started the violence and attacked the protesters as they often have done before,” Mr. Ponhearith said.
“We are so sorry for the violent clash today.”
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