Voters rioted Sunday in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district after a daylong demonstration against voting irregularities, destroying and burning two military police pick-up trucks and throwing rocks at police officers.
Protests began earlier in the day when disgruntled voters said they could not find their names on the voter list, and accused a National Election Committee (NEC) staff member, Yin Kim Sien, at the polling station in Stung Meanchey commune primary school, of not heeding their complaints.
When a young man allegedly lashed out at a Buddhist monk who was protesting the problems with the voter list, a riot erupted.
To escape the angry mob at the polling station, Ms. Kim Sien locked herself in a small classroom as protesters shouted at her to come out.
Yin Ratanak Sotheary, a monk, said the police had erred in coming to the aid of the young man who had tried to hit him.
“A guy just came out of nowhere and tried to hit me and I managed to duck his blow.”
Yin Saran, a district police officer, who had been monitoring the situation throughout the day, said police had detained the man who tried to hit the monk, though he declined to name him. The man was not Vietnamese, like angry protesters had claimed, Mr. Saran said, but in fact Khmer.
“He is now in the district police station,” he added.
The situation then deteriorated when military police attempted to extract the stranded Ms. Kim Sien from the classroom, leading hundreds of youths, including monks, to hurl stones at the force of more than 100 military police officers.
Retreating under the hail of rocks and other objects, the military police officers left two new model pick-up trucks behind, which quickly had their windows smashed and were overturned.
In an attempt to drive off the mob, military police officers fired more than 10 shots in the air. But the rioters were undaunted and redoubled their efforts to smash the two vehicles before successfully setting them on fire at about 5 p.m., their petrol tanks exploding a half hour later and sending thick clouds of black smoke up into the darkening Phnom Penh sky.
Police fire trucks equipped with water cannons were assembled nearby along with scores of military police and riot police, but were not deployed to push back the rioters. When the flames of the burning trucks died down, the rioters simply dwindled away, though a few young people continued to smash the burned-out hulks of the two vehicles.
A senior military police officer, who declined to give his name but who watched the destruction of his unit’s vehicles from a couple of dozen meters away, said simply that he had not received orders from his superiors to intervene and send in his nearby officers to confront the angry crowds.
With the flames dying, a man who the protesters believed to be ethnic Vietnamese was attacked, and left unconscious with nasty injuries to his head.
Surrounded by the mob, the man had his hands pressed together in a sampeah gesture, pleading with them not to beat him further, before falling unconscious. He was eventually taken away in an ambulance.
Twenty-four-year-old monk Thach Thaovry stood outside Ms. Kim Sien’s classroom refuge all afternoon along with about 10 other monks, a saffron-colored barrier to prevent Ms. Kim Sien from leaving.
Rallying the protesters with shouts of “justice!” and “we want to vote,” Thach Thaovry said that people at this polling station would be unable to accept the election results.
“This election is unacceptable because there has been no solution for the people who have problems voting,” Thach Thaovry said.
Ms. Kim Sien, who spoke through a barred window from the classroom where she was holed up, said she feared for her life.
“The protesters want me to die,” she said.
Pou Davy, deputy municipal military police chief, said Sunday night that Ms. Kim Sien was now out of the classroom and safely returned home.
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