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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Union reaffirms call for demonstration

Union reaffirms call for demonstration

The country's largest union has confirmed it will go ahead with plans to protest

the result of the election. The announcement came after an official told the Post

on August 13 that the union would stay away.

George McLeod, an advisor at the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of

Cambodia (FTUWKC), had said the union was concerned violence would break out if its

members took part in planned demonstrations.

But in a statement released the following day, FTUWKC secretary-general Sum Sam Neang

said the union would go ahead with its original plan to demonstrate.

"McLeod cannot decide the internal affairs of the union," he said. "He

is simply an advisor expressing his own opinion."

The FTUWKC is part of the Cambodian Watchdog Council (CWC), a coalition that includes

associations of students and teachers. The CWC earlier announced it would organize

protests once the election result was declared by the National Election Committee

(NEC). The organization is also calling for the removal of Hun Sen as prime minister.

Sam Neang said the CWC remained united and had the same stance regarding the protest.

The response from the Hun Sen-affiliated Pagoda Boys was that they would break up

any such demonstration if it "affected the national interest". Seng Sovanara,

the president of the Pagoda Boys, confirmed on August 13 that his group would intervene,

but refused further comment.

Final results will be announced once the Constitutional Council finishes its hearings

into electoral complaints. NEC secretary-general Tep Nytha said that would be before

September 6.

In its statement, CWC said it had decided that biased media coverage, political killings,

threats and vote-buying had rendered impossible a free and fair election. The body

also complained that the NEC was biased towards the ruling Cambodian People's Party

(CPP).

"The demonstration will not support any political party," said Men Nath,

president of the Democratic Front for Khmer Students and Intellectuals (DFKSI), a

CWC member.

Nath said his group would convene after the declaration of the formal election result

to decide on an appropriate date for the protest.

"We will inform the authorities," he said. "If they do not allow it

to proceed, that is up to them. According to the Constitution, we have the right

to assemble."

The CWC statement added that the NEC's announcement of initial results on August

8 was simply to back up the CPP's own figures: "It is a setback of democracy

because the ruling party and NEC colluded to steal votes to allow the dictators to

keep their power."

The Khmer Front Party (KFP), which came eleventh in the general election with 20,000

votes, announced on August 14 that its party members would join the protest. The

KFP is the political wing of one of the DFKSI.

KFP deputy president Sun Sokunmelea claimed on August 14 that her party would mobilize

275,000 people across the country. She said protests would go ahead if the party

felt unsatisfied with the rulings on electoral disputes by the NEC and the Constitutional

Council.

CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith played down the threat of force made earlier by the

government. He said the law allowed CWC to stage demonstrations provided protesters

stayed in one place and did not march. He added that Hun Sen had said as much during

a July 29 security meeting.

Kanharith said a march might provoke violence, which could leave protesters without

protection. Or, he warned, someone might try to damage the government's image by

throwing a grenade into the crowd.

"No one is banning them [from protesting]," he said. "They must just

inform the authorities where and when they will gather."

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