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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Democracy Square flattened, but protests live on

Democracy Square flattened, but protests live on

SMOLDERING SOTHEAROS

A Molotov cocktail thrown by a demonstrator burns Sept 8 near the Royal Palace as riot police look on.

THE GOVERNMENT crackdown on street demonstrations composed of persistent and highly

mobile protesters has created a week of escalating tensions and turmoil.

Anti-government protesters have played cat-and-mouse with police in key locations

of Phnom Penh over the past six days. The police have used batons, electric prods,

rifle butts, water cannons and some bullets to disperse protesters, but angry people

are consistently regrouping to throw rocks and jeer at the security forces at various

locations.

The clashes began on the night of Sept 7 outside the gates of the Hotel Sofitel Cambodiana,

where opposition figure Sam Rainsy is sheltering in a United Nations office.

Police fired shots four times that night, mostly harmlessly, to disperse tenacious

pro-Rainsy protesters outside the gates. But a moto-taxi driver was killed in the

first barrage. One policeman's nose was broken by a hurled rock.

The dead moto-taxi driver's name has been given as Chem Pich by rights workers and

Houn Keo Davy by the Interior Ministry.

Nervous-looking hotel guests peered out their windows or imbibed liquid courage in

the bar as demonstrators yelled, police fired, and journalists took cover behind

the hotel wall.

"Do you think I can leave here?" one guest wondered during a lull. Asked

where he wanted to go, he replied: "Out of here!"

Several protesters, including a monk, were also beaten up by police outside the hotel

before they dispersed around midnight.Tuesday marked the birth of the running street

clashes, after three separate demonstrations were broken up by riot police and water

cannons.

The opposition's symbolic 'Democracy Square' tent city outside the National Assembly

was invaded by truckloads of shouting police wielding guns and stun batons at 1:30pm.

Most terrified residents fled with whatever they could grab, while fire trucks drove

the stubborn remnants out with water hoses.

Some protesters raced up Sothearos Boulevard to the corner of Street 178, where they

made a brief stand, burning rubbish and hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at the

perhaps 60 police who followed. The police eventually shot into the air to disperse

the group, and spent the afternoon in a mopping-up operation, checking alleys and

wats around the riverside area for gathering protesters.

The clearing of the unprecedented, 17-day-old sit-in - established to protest the

July 26 election results, home to about 600 residents and host to perhaps 6,000 people

during opposition rallies - took only minutes. Less than two hours after the protesters

had been driven away, a bulldozer arrived to raze the site.

Police had already picked through the park for useful things hastily left behind,

including a portable stereo and a blue baby rattle. Blue plastic tarps were also

carefully folded and loaded onto trucks, along with large valuable items like bicycles.

Individual police rifled through bags in between chopping down the tent frames with

machetes. A few onlookers quietly took some of the banners and cartoons which had

adorned the site.

At the same time Democracy Square was being cleared, police were moving in on two

other pro-democracy demonstrations in different parts of the city.

The Students For Democracy, who had camped out overnight in front of the Information

Ministry on Monivong Boulevard, also dispersed in the face of baton-bearing riot

police and fire trucks.

Meanwhile, marching from Psar Thmei, 300 monks - bearing Buddhist flags and funeral

wreaths for monks who'd gone missing from previous demonstrations - and hundreds

of other marchers confronted two water cannon trucks and 30 intervention police lined

across Monivong Boulevard.

The police charged and the monks fled, except for one brave soul who assumed the

lotus position, bowed his head and offered up a sompeah. This was answered by a blow

to the neck from an electric prod.

Water cannons drove the monks up against shopfront walls. They held up umbrellas

in a pathetic defense against high-powered cascades. Police waded in, bouncing clubs

off shaved heads and robed shoulders.

Other marchers desperately sought shelter with shopkeeper families. One monk, white-faced

in shock and terror, said: "We are just demanding the body of the monk who was

killed and for democracy and peace in Cambodia."

Fifteen minutes later, the police were formed in two lines across Monivong at the

railway station, about to play out a scene which was to foreshadow many clashes in

the days to follow.

Three hundred angry teenagers milled in front of the police, screaming: "Yuon!"

"Yuon puppets! Yuon police!" They advanced closer, throwing rocks and bricks.

The police laughed and joked among themselves. "Please give us the order to

charge," one cop called to his commander.

Behind the police, two army trucks pulled up and disgorged squads of blue-helmeted

military police.

The intervention police in the front line squatted down behind their shields as the

rock barrage grew fiercer. Crouched behind them, the commander was barking into a

walkie-talkie. He lifted a bullhorn and shouted: "Charge!"

The police took off like sprinters from starting blocks. The kids turned tail and

bolted up Monivong. At the first block of shops, three police caught a straggler

and belted him around the head with clubs. Another policeman was clubbing a second

kid when his commander conked him on the helmet with his bullhorn, shouting: "Keep

moving!"

Three blocks up Monivong from the railway station, bricks dropped from a rooftop,

shattering on the pavement below. The commander shouted up to the people lining roofs

and balconies to get out of sight. "Get down here!" he called to two elderly

Chinese men who had poked out their heads out of a fourth floor window.

"No!" they replied and slammed the window shut.

One old lady shouted: "You are cruel. Khmer beating Khmer! Please stop it!"

DEMOLISHING DEMOCRACY SQUARE

An earth mover rumbles through the debris of Democracy Square a few hours after riot police emptied the park. Police picked the area clean of valuables before the demolition began.

Down a sidestreet, two police were beating a moto-taxi driver. A plainclothes cop

rushed up and punched the man in the face, kneed him, elbowed him, punched him again,

only to then grab him by the hair, haul him upright and onto his motorcycle, and

shove him on his way again.

Meanwhile, the demonstration was over, and police squatted with their shields in

the shade. They swigged water, smoked cigarettes and swapped tales of kicks and club-jabs,

voluble as a winning football team.

"We wanted to do this quickly and cleanly," said one later. "We've

been training for weeks. We are professional police. We don't belong to any political

party. We don't care what party people are, we obey orders and perform a good service.

We're not for Hun Sen or anybody. We serve the people of Cambodia."

Told of CNN footage that night featuring police savagely clubbing a middle-aged woman

in Democracy Square, the police murmured in disapproval. "That's not good,"

said one. "But I think we did 90, 95 percent right today. I hope things stay

quiet now."

However, things did not stay quiet after the Tuesday crackdowns. In fact, the demolishing

of Democracy Square seemed to backfire on police: the forcible removal of a clear

focal point of protest created groups of angry, mobile protesters who gathered in

various parts of the city.

On Wednesday morning, a crowd had formed near the US Embassy and Prince Ranariddh's

house, still protesting election results. Police arrived and eventually charged the

jeering, rock-throwing crowd.

In the ensuing melee, protesters - including monks - were beaten with batons and

shot with water cannons. One foreign journalist was hospitalized for a head injury

from a rock but was released the same day.

Two monks were shot. One was originally thought to be dead, which created rage in

the city at such a violation of Buddhist precepts.

Both opposition leaders, Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy - who emerged briefly,

in a UN convoy, to meet with Ranariddh on Tuesday and again on Wednesday before retreating

to the UN office - condemned the violence against monks in a Wednesday press conferences.

Leaflets claiming the riot police were Vietnamese and wild rumors of widespread killing

by police appeared to energize a movement that at one point appeared to be tapering

off.

The US Embassy continued to be a new focal point for the protesters, as they congregated

again on Thursday morning, only to be again driven off by about 50 riot police, this

time backed up by about 50 military police. One young man was shot and reported dead,

but this later proved erroneous.

Thursday also saw a remarkable swelling of protest, at least partly driven by anger

at the violence against monks. A 500-strong crowd at the Cambodian Office of the

High Commissioner for Human Rights (COHCHR), where protesters met with rights officials

to express concern about their safety, grew into a gigantic citywide march, drawing

perhaps 10,000.

Moto drivers, passers-by, and onlookers cheered the march and joined in spontaneously

by the hundreds. The jubilant crowd, seemingly intoxicated by its own power, waved

tree branches and burst into a roar as it passed the police at the former Democracy

Square.

"Democracy!" shouted a young woman on a motorbike as she passed the park.

Asked if she was afraid, she said: "Yes, I am afraid of Hun Sen - but I am here,

all of us are here because we love democracy."

As the march reached the Royal Palace, 13 trucks and fire engines arrived bearing

police and military police. The crowd scattered quickly without any shots fired;

the police trucks pursued one section to the train station.

There demonstrators threw rocks at the police trucks, then dispersed again ahead

of about 20 units of Flying Tiger police - only to reassemble later at the Independence

Monument.

The persistence and speed of the mostly moto-riding demonstrators seemed at times

to reduce the police to racing around the city looking for groups of people to drive

away. And coupled with the police's reluctance to shoot, many of the demonstrators

seemed to take it as a grand game.

Their excitement was palpable as hundreds, perhaps thousands of people gathered around

the monument, laughing, chanting and clapping, even after nightfall.

Many foreign observers were astonished at the evidently unplanned outburst of 'people

power'. "This is incredible", "I never thought I'd see this",

several echoed.

However, police broke up the crowd with shots in the air, and continued cruising

around town into the night, dispersing small groups of hyped-up activists.

The monument played host to a different set of people on Friday morning, as pro-government

demonstrators waved banners in support of the election. The demonstration segued

into a city-wide march, during which pro-CPP marchers - a new sight in the capital

- clashed with opposition supporters.

Shots evidently originating from the pro-government side of the clash killed one

opposition supporter and injured another, UN sources confirmed. The CPP march, unmolested

by police, continued up Street 63, passing opposition demonstrators gathered a block

away at the US Embassy without further incident. Most of the CPP marchers carried

sticks or iron bars.

In a Friday statement, the COHCHR condemned the killing and called on the government

to disarm and disband the pro-CPP demonstrators, who the rights office said "appear

to be agents provocateurs".

The marchers ended up at the Royal Palace. There were no reports of police crackdowns

on the pro-CPP demonstrators.

Also on Friday, 1,500 opposition supporters marched through the city, ending up at

the US Embassy.

King Norodom Sihanouk warned opposition parliamentarians-elect in a strongly worded

statement Friday evening that he could not guarantee their safety if they did not

join the government.

It was unclear whether the King's message would affect protests that were otherwise

expected to continue into the weekend.

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