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Opposition faithful march on

Cambodian National Rescue Party supporters cheer at Freedom Park on the second day of a series of daily demonstrations in Phnom Penh
Cambodian National Rescue Party supporters cheer at Freedom Park on the second day of a series of daily demonstrations in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Opposition faithful march on

Thousands of demonstrators turned out at the capital’s Freedom Park yesterday for the second day of anti-government protests this week.

After a few hundred activists and protesters spent the day in the park, entertained by singers and musicians, the crowd swelled to several thousand by late afternoon in anticipation of the arrival of Cambodia National Rescue Party leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha.

Following brief opening remarks, the two party chiefs led the crowd in a one-hour rally through the streets, for the first time calling on supporters to drive their motos or tuk-tuks rather than walk.

“Marching by riding motorbikes will prove that [demonstrators] demand a new election,” Kem Sokha told reporters before the march. “This is the force of demands of the youth.”

Along the way, demonstrators continued the refrain, “Hun Sen, step down”, which was met with a varied response from the bemused tourists, frustrated commuters and largely supportive locals who lined the route.

Despite speculation from critics that the protest movement would run out of steam if daily demonstrations were called, enthusiasm to continue the rallies was high yesterday.

CNRP youth activists said they were confident that the movement would continue to draw increasing support.

“It’s really sure that the protesters will come more and more, because the word will spread, especially on Saturday and Sunday, because people don’t work,” Choeng Rameth, 28, a CNRP youth activist from Kandal province, told the Post.

Another activist, Eng Ratanak, also from Kandal province, said that young people were no longer afraid of the authorities.

“We need time, time to heal. Only time will tell if this is a success or not. It’s not like 1998. We are not worried about a crackdown anymore . . . We cannot live with this deadlock,” he said. “In Thailand, they protest because they want Thaksin’s relatives out of the country.

“We don’t want Hun Sen out of the country, we just want rid of the corrupt dictatorship government.”

Sann Seakkin, national head of the CNRP youth activists, told the Post that there was support for the protest movement from within the security forces.

“We have spies; we have a network in the CPP. We know especially about low-ranking officers. Look at the police.… They want change as well,” he said.

The government has yet to move against the demonstrators, and rumours that police were en route to Freedom Park last night proved untrue at press time.

But it remains to be seen how the authorities will deal with what appears to be a movement that will not go away quietly.

“We cannot allow anyone or any group to abuse the public interests.… We will take appropriate action to respond to what is happening,” Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said yesterday.

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