Phnom Penh City Hall on Friday once again denied union requests to march through the city to mark International Labour Day.

Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said city officials cited traffic and public safety concerns in rejecting the unions’ plans to march from the Council for the Development of Cambodia near Wat Phnom to the National Assembly.

According to Thorn, city officials also said they would not allow their event – titled “The Challenges of Trade Union Law Enforcement’’ – to take place in front of the National Assembly, recommending instead that the group hold it at the new Freedom Park, far from city centre.

“It’s a little bit of restriction of freedom of expression,” Thorn said. “They allow us Freedom Park, but we don’t agree because it’s too far from the city.”

Permission from government officials is not required under the Law on Peaceful Demonstrations – just advance notice. However, the city’s ban has become something of an annual ritual.

In years past, unions have defied the ban and marched anyway, but this year they struck a compromise with city officials to hold the event in front of the CDC offices, Thorn said.

“Because of the political situation and [being] close to the election, we don’t want to challenge with the government,” he said. “So we just accept to do the event at the gardens of the CDC office.”

He said the municipality pledged to send a letter to the Ministry of Interior requesting permission for 2,000 participants. Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak on Sunday said the ministry had not received it.

Naly Pilorge, of rights group Licadho, described the city’s decision as “unfortunate”.

“I hope the organizers for International Labour Day will inquire to [the] municipality and Ministry of Interior as to how a nonviolent march of workers could ever affect ‘national security’ or cause traffic,” Pilorge said in a message.

International Labour Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, takes place annually on May 1. Other unions are also planning to hold an event, but at a private location.

Rong Chhun, former president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, said they expected about 200 participants. “The number is small as we can’t fit many participants at the private space,” he said, adding that they too had been prohibited from marching.