Days after authorities repeatedly cracked down on demonstrations, opposition party supporters staged a rolling rally across Phnom Penh yesterday, filling up roads for hours and blocking major intersections.
About 500 people with tuk-tuks and motorbikes gathered at the Cambodia National Rescue Party headquarters in the capital’s Meanchey district in the afternoon before taking to their vehicles, from which they blasted the party’s anthem and shouted slogans over megaphones. Thousands of CNRP supporters also marched in Kampong Cham province earlier in the day.
“Change or no change?” members in Phnom Penh shouted as they rolled down the streets of several districts yesterday. “Change number four to number seven,” they said, referencing the CPP and CNRP’s respective numbers on election ballots last July.
Opposition party members held the rallies less than a week after public gatherings were banned in the capital during the May 1-16 council election campaign.
A mass of CNRP supporters in Phnom Penh followed lawmaker Yim Sovann, as members physically blocked people at major intersections from breaking up the rally and the group sped through traffic lights and snarled traffic.
“The public is not content; they don’t like it because traffic is always heavy,” Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said. “But in some cases, [CNRP members] don’t respect that.”
Siphan last night said the demonstration was allowed to occur because it did not interfere with public order.
Only a handful of police were seen on the streets during the roughly four-hour rally, a stark contrast to the reaction to demonstrations held last Thursday and Friday, when Daun Penh district security guards beat a number of people. The municipality notified the public of the ban via its website on Tuesday. An announcement on the site said city Governor Pa Socheatvong informed officials from all of Phnom Penh’s nine districts that public assemblies were banned.
After CNRP president Sam Rainsy and vice president Kem Sokha held an International Labour Day demonstration, where about 1,500 gathered at the Naga Bridge, across from Freedom Park, helmeted Daun Penh security guards seemingly picked people out at random and beat them with clubs. At least five people were injured.
Several people, including at least two journalists, were injured the next day after security guards and riot police cracked down on a gathering at the same location for a planned opposition party demonstration.
Rainsy and Sokha both attended the rally in Kampong Cham yesterday, where supporters took a similar approach to campaigning for the council election, despite what was described as a large number of military police blocking them from entering market areas.
“The Cambodia National Rescue Party will rule the government soon,” Sokha said at the Kampong Cham march. “During the election in 2013, the National Rescue Party won in Phnom Penh, so a Cambodia National Rescue Party member should be Phnom Penh municipality’s governor.”
Addressing the crowd in Kampong Cham, Rainsy brought up the issue of land grabbing.
“Our past disputes are not important; now we must join to save our nation,” Rainsy said. “People’s farmland is being grabbed and we must solve that. Our forests are also being destroyed, people’s lives are being ruined.”