At least 10 people were injured in the Cambodian capital Sunday when security forces clashed with protesting activists, trade union leaders, and workers demanding higher wages and the release of 23 people arrested in a recent bloody government crackdown.
In a separate incident, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party supporters mobbed the headquarters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in Kampong Cham province east of the country, preventing CNRP members from attending a forum, according to opposition officials.
The protest outside Freedom Park in Phnom Penh on Sunday was in defiance of a ban on demonstrations in the capital imposed about three weeks ago after a violent crackdown on a strike by garment workers demanding higher minimum wages and opposition rallies calling on Prime Minister Hun Sen to resign.
The clash occurred when security forces set up roadblocks and prevented the scores of protesters from entering Freedom Park, which had been the base for daily anti-government demonstrations by CNRP supporters until they were violently dispersed earlier this month.
Protesters threw rocks, shoes, water bottles, and sticks at the police and Phnom Penh Municipal Council security forces who retaliated by hitting them with batons and tasers, eyewitnesses said.
Local rights group Licadho said that at least 10 people from both sides were injured in the clash, the first since the government shot dead four people during a Jan. 3 strike by garment workers demanding higher minimum wages.
During the clash Sunday, workers said they had confiscated slingshots with homemade metal balls that they claimed had been used to “shoot” at the protestors.
Mammoth rally shelved
Union representatives said plans to have a mammoth workers rally on Sunday had to be shelved due to the extraordinary security measures imposed in the capital.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, said he was “sad” that the authorities used force to prevent workers from gathering to push their campaign for higher wages and call for the freedom of the 23 protesters who are being kept in a remote prison facility.
“Freedom in Cambodia has declined to zero,” he said. “Freedom of assembly and speech are being restricted by the authorities.”
Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers Democratic Union President Ath Thon called for a resumption of tripartite negotiations between unions, the government, and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which represents factory owners, to discuss prospects for increasing minimum wages.
The unions are demanding that wages be doubled to U.S. $160 a month. The government clampdown earlier this month had forced an end to strikes and the return to factories by thousands of protesting workers.
“We are hoping to have talks soon,” Ath Thon said. “We must use this chance to resolve this issue so we won’t have any more problems.”
CNRP gathering disrupted
Meanwhile in Kampong Cham, ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) supporters, armed with sticks and protected by security forces, tried to disrupt a CNRP gathering, CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha said.
He accused Hun Sen of using his party’s supporters to provoke clashes with CNRP supporters.
“This strategy is a threat against the constitution,” Kem Sokha said.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan rejected the charges, saying the CPP supporters wanted to display their support for Prime minister Hun Sen.
“CPP members are adhering to their rights to protect their votes and support Hun Sen to be the prime minister,” he said.
Hun Sen had recently urged his supporters to be prepared to counter CNRP protests calling for his resignation, saying the opposition action had “characteristics of a coup.”
The opposition had called on Hun Sen to resign and hold fresh elections after allegations of fraud and other irregularities in the July 2013 elections in which his CPP was declared victor by the government-appointed election body, which has dismissed calls for an independent probe into the polls.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.