Despite Thursday night’s grenade attack and two days of ruling-party scare tactics, thousands turned out for an opposition rally Sunday at Olympic Stadium.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy postponed a planned citywide march and settled for a rally within the confines of the stadium grounds after a late-night deal brokered by the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to Cambodia Lakhan Mehrotra and Sok An, minister of the Council of Ministers and CPP standing committee member, according to a Sam Rainsy Party press release.
“There were so many indications [Saturday] that there would be trouble, we could not take the risk to our supporters,” Sam Rainsy said in a statement. “But we appreciate the UN’s mediation and Sok An’s cooperation in making sure that nobody was hurt.”
Despite the compromise, Sam Rainsy led a half-hour march after the rally on the streets circling the stadium. Traffic police blocked protesters from going farther.
A Funcinpec-Sam Rainsy Party joint statement sent by party secretary-generals Tol Lah and Yim Sokha on Sunday evening threatened to organize further mass demonstrations if their complaints about election irregularities are not addressed by Aug 29, when the official results are due to be released.
The two parties announced at the rally that their original citywide march would be this morning, but by Sunday evening that the plan had been downscaled to a daily vigil in the park across the street from the National Assembly, according to Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Rich Garella.
Garella cited security and logistical concerns for calling off the march. He said supporters arriving at Olympic Stadium today will be told by loudspeakers to proceed on their own to the park.
The Ministry of Interior banned Sunday’s planned march—citing a lack of money to pay police for working overtime, heavy Sunday traffic and not enough advance notice—but approved one for Monday.
For Sunday morning’s rally, Sam Rainsy spoke to an estimated crowd of 8,000, and was joined on the steps outside Olympic Stadium by senior Funcinpec and Son Sann Party leaders who denounced the results of the July 26 elections, which they claimed were rigged.
“Your presence today is testimony to your will that you wanted fulfilled in the election,” Tol Lah said, speaking on behalf of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who was abroad on Sunday. “But sadly, [your] will was robbed by the dictator.”
Other Funcinpec members present were Ambassador to the UN, Prince Sisowath Sirirath, Commerce Secretary of State Lu Laysreng, parliamentarian Ahmad Yahya and parliamentarian-elect, Khek Vandy.
Son Sann Party Secretary-General, Kem Sokha, whose party failed to win any seats in the July 26 election, described Hun Sen as a dictator and sounded familiar anti-Vietnamese themes.
“We can’t allow the international community…to let Hun Sen kill Khmer people. If yuon puppets are still in power and if the international community supports the dictator, more people will be killed by Hun Sen,” Kem Sokha said.
The crowd chanted loudly, with party workers on bullhorns answering back with a stream of anti-Vietnamese, anti-CPP slogans. Banners in English and Khmer claiming that the ruling party stole the elections were waved alongside pro-US signs.
“America is the only hope for Cambodian people,” read one banner. “USA and UN have to find justice for Cambodia,” read another.
“The people are not afraid anymore,” said Chan Et, a 59-year-old unemployed woman from Phnom Penh as she listened to speeches. “This [rally] is the real wish of the people, not the international observers who just came for a holiday.”
After listening to 90 minutes of anti-Hun Sen, anti-Vietnamese rhetoric, demonstrators marched for a half-hour around the outside of Olympic Stadium.
The high turnout came despite Thursday night’s grenade attack outside the Ministry of Interior where Sam Rainsy was drawing attention to alleged vote tampering.
Political tensions were high in the days leading up to the rally. A pro-CPP newspaper, Chakraval, claimed Saturday that 50 armed soldiers of Khmer Rouge hard-line leader Ta Mok were being sent to join the demonstration.
A Sam Rainsy Party press release said Sunday afternoon that 28 truckloads of supporters had been stopped on Routes 1, 2 and 5 leading to the city.
The checkpoints capped off two days of scare tactics and intimidation by CPP supporters.
In Takhmau, where Second Prime Minister Hun Sen maintains a residence, fire trucks turned hoses onto passengers of 15 trucks police would not allow to pass. The party said supporters trying to continue on foot were sprayed with water, but there were no injuries.
A human rights worker confirmed the water spraying incident and said Kandal authorities blocked trucks from leaving Kandal at about 7:30 am and police authorities stated they were doing it to stop party supporters from participating in an “illegal demonstration.”
“Sam Rainsy does not care about people’s security and public order,” said Mom Saman, Kandal province deputy police chief. “The three fire trucks are ready to warn Mr Sam Rainsy not to do anything bad.”
On Saturday afternoon, Takhmau police confiscated a Sam Rainsy Party truck distributing leaflets, according to the party. Later members, drove the truck out of a police compound while guards weren’t watching.
“[Saturday], Mr Sam Rainsy instigated trouble in the province,” Mom Saman said, explaining why the party truck was held. “The provincial authorities have to stop all these unlicensed activities.”
A bullet struck another truck Saturday at 5 pm near O’Russey Market as a party member was climbing in the back after distributing leaflets, according to Garella.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Sunday that the Kandal authorities were right to block the party supporters because it was an illegal demonstration. Khieu Sopheak did not know about the last minute deal struck by the UN, Sok An and Sam Rainsy, and speculated that maybe the Kandal authorities did not know either.
When asked about any plans to block demonstrators today, Khieu Sopheak said there should not be any problems.
There were at least two violent attacks by opposition supporters on bystanders perceived to be Vietnamese during the march around the stadium.
On Monineath Boulevard a man was struck repeatedly by protesters who accused him of being Vietnamese. Eye witnesses said he was yelling anti-opposition slogans. Police intervened and escorted him to safety. Later, he denied being Vietnamese.
“I came from Takhmau to join the rally. I’m not Vietnamese,” he said.
A motorcycle parts vendor fled his street side stall on Poland Boulevard after verbal threats from demonstrators. Opposition supporters kicked over his stall until a UN human rights worker and others calmed them down.
The Funcinpec-Sam Rainsy joint statement promised to compensate victims of violence during the march for loss of property.
Several protesters interviewed said they would return today for the second rally.
“I don’t agree with the election results at all,” said Kan Mony, a 46-year-old farmer from Takeo province who vowed to return today. “I don’t agree with results that would let such a wild man as Hun Sen be leader.”
(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)
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