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Democracy Square's future - paid for by the opposition?

Democracy Square's future - paid for by the opposition?

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STAY OFF THE GRASS

An asphalt square will be added to the park across the street from the National Assembly to keep a new lawn and flower garden from being trampled by future demonstrations.

THE TENT city dubbed 'Democracy Square' is history, but the Phnom Penh municipality

has accepted that demonstrations will no doubt be staged at the park near the National

Assembly in the future.

To accommodate future protests, Phnom Penh First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara said

an asphalt-surfaced square is being constructed as part of the municipality's $40,000

renovation of the park, which was hastily begun the day after Democracy Square was

demolished by riot police on Sept 8.

The park's facelift, said to be planned for months, also includes a row of street

lamps, a new lawn, and a garden that Chea Sophara is not keen to see trampled in

a swell of public expression.

"They cannot come on the garden," he said of future demonstrations. "If

some party is unhappy about something and wants to demonstrate, we are preparing

a square for them."

Sophara said the construction would begin on the square in a few days, but from the

looks of things at the park, it will most likely be placed some distance from the

Assembly.

Public toilets were initially to be included, but Sophara said he was having trouble

getting help from outgoing First Prime Minister Ung Huot, who made the addition of

public toilets to the capital one of his first and only civil initiatives since he

took the job last year.

Sophara said the city may attempt to pay for the renovation through promotions and

advertising in the park during the 1999 Khmer New Year celebrations next April. Previous

upgrades to public places, such as Wat Phnom and Psar Thmei, have been paid for with

ads and contributions from the business community.

Funding for the beutification effort has fallen short of the costs, according to

a municipal spokesman, but he denied any of the money was stolen, as had been previously

reported.

The CPP deputy governor, who is in de facto control of the capital although he is

officially under a Funcinpec governor, said it would only be fair to ask the opposition

to pay for the park's renovation because of damage he said occurred during the 17-day

Democracy Square protest.

"We hope that one day we will go and see [opposition leaders] Prince Norodom

Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy and say 'Please give us the $40,000.' But not now, after

the formation of the Royal Government," Sophara said.

Asked if the city would file charges of destruction of public property against the

opposition at the municipal court, the governor said it was too early to tell. "Not

yet now, but after the government forms we will ask [the opposition for the money].

I hope they will not refuse."

A spokesman from the Sam Rainsy Party said he doubted the party would agree to pay

for a renovation of a public place after exercising a Constitutionally protected

right of public expression.

"It seems like a legal use of the park and naturally there is going to be some

wear and tear done to a public place that was used legally," Rich Garella said.

"The park was pretty run down anyway... I'm not even sure what they would ask

us to pay for."

Asked if the opposition should be held responsible for the damage done to the Cambodia-Vietnam

Friendship Monument - bashed Aug 30 by hammer-wielding demonstrators and then set

ablaze - Garella said the attack on the statue was neither led nor condoned by the

SRP.

"That had nothing to do with us," he said. "I don't see why we would

pay for it."

Sophara said he doubted the damage done to the monument during the sit-in protest

- which often included anti-Vietnamese speeches by opposition leaders - would be

repaired soon because architects were having trouble locating the correct type of

stone.

"It is very difficult to find the stone because it was first taken from near

Angkor Wat in 1984," he said.

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