About 2,000 demonstrators led by Sam Rainsy defied a municipal ban on demonstrations and marched through the streets of Phnom Penh on Sunday, calling for free and fair elections.
The demonstration began on the steps of Olympic Stadium, where Sam Rainsy told a crowd of about 1,000: “We want radio and TV stations to air our opinion. All Cambodian people have to be allowed to vote.”
Sam Rainsy has complained that media access is unfair and the election process biased in favor of the CPP.
The 90-minute march proceeded without incident to Kampuchea Krom, past Phsar Thmei and down Monivong Boulevard, where traffic was snarled as demonstrators chanted such slogans as, “The July 26 elections will be a farce.” About 1,000 others joined as the demonstration proceeded.
“I gave up a day’s pay to join the demonstration,” said Prum Huot, a 40-year-old market worker. “I’m tired of dictatorship in the present government.”
Meanwhile, three busloads and a truck full of garment factory workers were stopped by police and militiamen in Takhmau while on their way to the demonstration, according to a Sam Rainsy Party press release, and confirmed by a human rights officer.
Police armed with rifles entered the Winner (Joinwell) Knitting Factory and told workers not to go to the capital. About 200 workers defied the order at 7 am and left in the buses and a truck. The buses were stopped at a roadblock, and workers were detained for two hours by district police, according to the press release.
A human rights official arrived and persuaded the police to let the convoy proceed. The truck, which took a different route with about 60 to 80 workers aboard, was stopped by militiamen at another roadblock. They ordered the demonstrators to be searched for weapons, the human rights official said.
The human rights official quoted the militiamen’s leader as saying the workers were stopped “because they are going to a demonstration.” When he asked who gave him the authority to stop them, the militia leader said “provincial officials.”
The militiamen’s leader let the truck go after the human rights official persuaded him to let it pass. The truckload of workers eventually joined the demonstration, according to Rich Garella, communications officer for the Sam Rainsy Party.
Kandal province Deputy Police Chief Mom Saman said he had no knowledge of the incidents.
The workers in the buses were able to join the demonstration at Monivong and Sihanouk boulevards, where they marched to Sam Rainsy Party headquarters on Sothearos Boulevard. There, the demonstration turned into a campaign rally with racist overtones as the marchers were invited to join the party’s Extraordinary Congress.
“Local authorities allowed yuon to vote. This is our right as pure Cambodians,” Sam Rainsy said. “Yuon” is a common racial slur for Vietnamese. He made several other comments using the term.
Before the demonstrators left the stadium, a list of Cambodians who were not allowed to vote was distributed, along with a list of Vietnamese who were allowed to register. The list was compiled by Sam Rainsy observers, it stated.
“Why did the National Election Committee make it convenient and allow these yuon to register?” a statement on the list asked. Garella said he was not sure of the list’s origin.
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