Protesters Struggle Through Heat, Rain in ‘Democracy Place’

Through heat and rain, from night to day, thousands have gathered in the park across from the National Assembly—dubbed “Democracy Place”—by the opposition since Monday morning.

Cyclo drivers, students and housewives have come. So have the old and young, homeless families looking for loaves of bread, and vendors selling drinks, pea­nuts, gum, cigarettes and beans.

Va Tevy, 35, said she closed her stall in O’Russey Market in the afternoon to join the sit-in.

“I’m selling my goods in the morning, and coming here in the afternoons to join this lovely demonstration,” she said. “Since Hun Sen has ruled there has been nothing but killing.”

Under the shade of a blue tarpaulin on Sothearos Boulevard, supporters distributed food and water to demonstrators, who wore strips of yellow ribbon  around their heads or arms, symbolizing peace.

A medical tent was set up flying a Red Cross banner. Nearby, bam­boo mats covered makeshift latrines.

Pol Ly, 35, from Prey Veng pro­vince, said he will stay in the park as long as it takes to remove Second Prime Minister Hun Sen from power.

“I want this demonstration to be like the one in Indonesia that forced chief dictator Suharto from power,” he said. “We have to speak out to remove Hun Sen.”

Whether or not the tent city across from the National As­sembly succeeds in its political goals, the large turnouts suggest this new style of protesting in Cambodia may be used again.

Supporters’ numbers swell and recede from morning to night. Like much of Cam­bodia, there’s not much activity from noon to 2 pm.

But when Sam Rainsy or Prince Norodom Ranariddh makes a speech, supporters’ num­bers multiply into the thousands, with the largest crowd coming to a late Tuesday afternoon Sam Rainsy speech.

Standing on a truck with loudspeakers blaring, Sam Rainsy takes in a steady flow of contributions of money, rice, bottled water and loaves of bread.

“You see all these Cambodian poor people—they bring donations to Cambo­dian democrats,” Sam Rainsy said. “Hun Sen uses mon­ey to buy votes, but it’s the people who bring money to Sam Rainsy.”

Party spokesman Rich Garella estimated that about $3,000 to $4,000 had been donated by Tuesday evening, in addition to goods including rice and mats.

The first night under the tarpaulins passed peacefully. Secur­ity, provided by the party and police, was tight.

Sitting on his cot at 12:30 am Monday, Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian-elect Son Chhay sat chatting with about a dozen supporters.

“Maybe we’ll have some guitars here tomorrow,” Son Chhay said. “I might even sing a song. You see, democracy can be a very enjoyable thing.”

(Additional reporting by Kay Johnson)

 

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