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Tens of thousands take to streets

THE first day of the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s planned demonstrations kicked off this morning at the capital’s Freedom Park with tens of thousands turning out to see party leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha.

Rainsy said today that the demonstrations, initially planned to be a three-day long event, would continue until election irregularities are properly investigated.

“The demonstrations will continue if our demands [for justice] are not met,” he told the roaring crowd this morning.

The Ministry of Interior has said the protests must end by 6pm today, raising the prospect of a possible forced removal this evening of demonstrators – many of whom are planning to camp out overnight.

Despite explosives being found in sensitive locations, including Freedom Park, on Saturday, the turnout this morning suggests ordinary Cambodians are not scared.

A festival-like atmosphere engulfed the park and its surrounding streets for most of the morning with the crowd, decked out in stickers and hats and bearing signs such as “Where is my vote?” and “Long live democracy”, joyously dancing following the leaders’ speeches.

Many rural protestors said they had come to the capital in large convoys of buses and trucks.

Around noon, thousands followed Rainsy and Sokha in a march down Sothearos Boulevard towards the Royal Palace.

The CNRP leaders managed to slip through a barbed-wire checkpoint blocking the road near Wat Ounalom and were followed by protestors who toppled and dragged away the barricades as riot police loaded their tear gas canisters and looked on.

Following a short speech from Rainsy outside the palace, demonstrators were eventually ushered back down Sothearos Boulevard towards Wat Phnom by CNRP officials, who despite being able to control the crowd’s movements, could not control their whoops and cheers in the face of stoic military and police officers.

Although a few isolated confrontations almost erupted between protestors and police at several barricades in the city centre, the actions of both CNRP youth leaders to defuse tensions and the calm response of police meant the first day of protests has thus far come off without serious incident.