Security barricades and razor-wire installations set up around Phnom Penh yesterday were supposed to maintain order as the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party kicked off what it promised to be three days of mass protests.
But the show of force and control had more of an impact on local businesses that were left cut off and stranded by the seemingly arbitrary roadblocks.
The owners or staff members of a variety of businesses said yesterday that heightened security was cutting into profits by cutting off foot traffic. A handful abruptly closed after only a few hours.
CNRP leaders have vowed to carry on protesting until their demands for an investigation into irregularities they say took place during the July 28 parliamentary poll are met. In other words, the security presence isn’t going away any time soon.
“I worry about this but I am not sure what I can do about it,” said Heak Huor, owner of New Castle 2 guesthouse, just west of Norodom Boulevard on Street 172.
Other than military police on nearly every corner, Norodom was virtually vacant.
Barricades running up and down Street 51 plugged access to the thoroughfare.
At his guesthouse, Huor estimated that clientele was down 30 per cent from the norm. He didn’t expect things to change if streets remained blocked for the remaining two days of demonstrations.
Most of the affected businesses are located in the vicinity of Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park – the staging ground for the three-day protest – and several blocks south around Independence Monument, near Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence.
“Normally, we have hundreds of customers throughout the shop,” said an attendant at Pencil supermarket on Street 214 who declined to be named because she was not authorised to speak to the media.
Only a handful of shoppers had arrived in the morning, and Pencil shut down early. The staffer expected the closures to go on over the course of the protests.
At the usually packed Brown Coffee on the same street, three tables were occupied.
“Every day when I walk around the shop, I can see customers everywhere, but today when I walk around there are empty tables everywhere,” said Pen Samphors, the manager.
Samphors said those who showed up were local and lived inside the barriers.
Some shop owners in the Tonle Bassac area south and east of the Independence Monument closed yesterday out of security concerns, while others remained open and filled few orders.
On Street 294, general manager of Phnom Boutique, Sruy Lida, stood in the entrance of the open clothing store. She said that after the election in July, security fears and a tense atmosphere in Phnom Penh drove her to close down a couple of times. But yesterday, she decided not to repeat the same decision and lose potential customers.
“I don’t want to close my shop again and again,” she said.
Responding to questions on whether the government response was hurting the local economy, Long Dimanche, spokesman for the Phnom Penh municipality, said that added security was required because of the protests.
“They [demonstrators] start to march and can cause violence against the police, so we must block,” Dimanche said. “Safety and security are the priorities.”
REPORTING CONTRIBUTED BY DANIEL DE CARTERET, HOR KIMSAY, ANNE RENZENBRINK AND LAURA MA