Thousands of opposition supporters drove for several kilometres to Russey Keo district’s Svay Pak commune yesterday afternoon in a rally marking the fifth day of protests against the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Despite the authorities on Tuesday suggesting that they may yet move against the ongoing protests, which a government spokesman has called “an abuse of the law”, there was once again little sign of police or security forces yesterday along the route of the rally or in Freedom Park.
For the first time since daily protests began on Sunday, demonstrators made their way outside of the metropolitan area of Phnom Penh and into one of the region’s poorer communes.
Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy led the march from the back of a pickup truck as party activists kept the riders entertained with chants and songs.
Kem Sokha, CNRP vice president, was notably absent from yesterday’s march. In a brief speech to the crowd ahead of the rally, Rainsy said Sokha was “in the provinces” organising a future mass demonstration.
The rally left Freedom Park at about 4:45pm, before making its way down streets 108, 93 and 68 towards National Road 5.
Hundreds of onlookers came out to watch the scene, and the response from people not directly involved in yesterday’s march was more widespread and impassioned than that of onlookers in previous days.
Following the 11-kilometre drive to Svay Pak, the rally headed back to Phnom Penh, where thousands of people settled in to enjoy a night of music and entertainment.
The opposition confirmed yesterday that it would organise a future blockade of the capital, with CNRP supporters set to block eight major roads leading into the city.
“We are calling on people to come, and we will not stop the rallies,” CNRP lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua said. “When it’s time [to blockade the city], we will do it. We have no secrets about this. We have no choice. The media . . . are saying this will wind down, but just listen to the people.”
Minister of Defense Tea Banh yesterday responded to the decision to block major roads into Phnom Penh by comparing the situation to neighbouring Thailand, where sometimes-violent protests have sought to oust the incumbent Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
“Each country has its laws. Trying to [demonstrate] is their right, but [they] also have to look into the constitution, the law of each country,” he said. “Wanting to take the example of Thailand is difficult . . .
This is Cambodia, that is Thailand.”
Banh also labelled the opposition demands for a new election “out of date”.
“Such demands, [we] don’t know what it will bring for our country,” he said, adding that the CNRP lawmakers-elect should take their seats in parliament and debate the ruling Cambodian People’s Party at the National Assembly.