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Military police storm Freedom Park

Two monks raise their arms in fear as a military police officer raises a baton to strike them
Two monks raise their arms in fear as a military police officer raises a baton to strike them on Saturday morning in Phnom Penh's Freedom Park.

Military police storm Freedom Park

A GROUP of Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers-elect are holed up at their party headquarters in the capital’s Meanchey district, while top leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are meeting in "a safe place," after authorities forcefully evicted opposition demonstrators from Freedom Park today.

Amid rumours that the government intends to arrest key opposition and union figures, CNRP lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua said the party’s lawmakers-elect had gathered in solidarity in its office – close to the Ministry of Interior.

“I don’t think it [the arrest warrants] is a rumour,” she said. “I think it is a reality. “It’s a matter of time, [but] I have no idea [what the government is accusing us of]. How would I? We’ve done nothing wrong.”

Rainsy and Sokha, meanwhile, were meeting with leaders from the international community, she said, adding that she was not privy to the location.

When called for comment, Phnom Penh Municipal Court president Chiv Keng, pled ignorant of any warrants.

Negotiations with the government, meanwhile - originally planned for yesterday, but nixed by the opposition following a violent crackdown against garment workers and monks - appear to be off the table altogether now, Sochua added.

“[Interior Minister] Sar Kheng said he no longer wants to communicate with Mr. Rainsy,” she said.

Kong Athit, vice president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), said he had moved to an undisclosed area on the outskirts of the capital.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said of the crackdown in Freedom Park. “I don’t know what their plan is. But this is their own fear.”

Athit said he had been trying to contact his president, Ath Thorn – one of the union leaders rumoured to be the subject of an arrest warrant – without success.

Earlier in the day, riot police in full body armour were seen blocking off Freedom Park ahead of its planned clearing.

Minutes later, two trucks with loudspeakers pulled into the northwest corner of the park, followed by a large contingent of military police who charged into the crowd with shields and batons.

Most of the peaceful protest quickly scattered, though a number of demonstrators, including monks, were seen being beaten by police as they attempted to flee.

Amid the large group of riot police, a separate group of men dressed in plainclothes and armed with sticks were also seen taking part in the operation. They were identified by a red ribbon tied around their arms.

After clearing out the majority of people, military police began violently dismantling the tents and tearing down the stage set up by the opposition.

The action followed a letter sent this morning from Phnom Penh city governor Pa Socheatvong to CNRP president Sam Rainsy, announcing that the opposition would not be permitted to hold further demonstrations due to recent violence.

"In order to maintain security and social order… the Phnom Penh Municipality decided not to allow the Cambodia National Rescue Party to hold further demonstrations at Freedom Park and rallies on streets in Phnom Penh starting January 4, 2014, until the security situation and public order is returned to normal," the statement says.

Long Dimanche, spokesman for Phnom Penh City Hall, conflated the party’s peaceful protests with recent violence that has erupted during an ongoing national garment strike over the minimum wage, claiming that some CNRP demonstrators, including monks, had left Freedom Park to join striking workers, damaging public and private property and disrupting the public order.

Military police yesterday shot dead at least four people during a strike outside the Canadia industrial park on the outskirts of the capital.

This afternoon, with Freedom Park cleared of all but journalists and rights activists, armed forces marched through the side streets surrounding Freedom Park, threatening and chasing bystanders as military helicopters, recently purchased from China, flew low overhead. Additional reporting by Stuart White

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