Friday, July 18, 2014

Cambodia arrests more opposition politicians after violent clashes

ABC Radio Australia - 18 July 2014, 8:09 AEST

Cambodian police have arrested two more opposition politicians on charges of leading an insurrection. 

Cambodian police have arrested two more opposition politicians on charges of leading an insurrection.

It takes the number of government opponents in custody to eight, who are being held on accusations that rights groups say are politically motivated.

The arrests are the latest twist in a year-long political crisis over a disputed election.

It's exposed a rift between long-serving authoritarian prime minister Hun Sen and many young, urban voters yearning for change.

Earlier, six members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), five of them members of parliament and one activist, were detained in prison pending trial on Wednesday.

They were arrested on charges of leading an insurrection, which carries a penalty of up to 30 years in prison.

The arrests came after violent clashes on Tuesday in which dozens of people were hurt.

Opposition politicians were leading a rally calling for the reopening of a Phnom Penh protest site.

Push to allow Freedom Park protests again

Freedom Park was the only place where protests were legally allowed until it was closed in January following demonstrations aimed at toppling Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985.

City security guards confronted the protesters as they tried to string up banners calling for the park to be reopened, sparking clashes.

Some guards were attacked by protesters and at least 37 were injured, according to the government.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned the charges against the opposition supporters.

It says Cambodia's big aid donors should demand Hun Sen's government drop the cases.

"These charges against CNRP leaders call for a unified response from donors, who shouldn't play the game of saying they hope the legal process will be fair," the group's Asia director, Brad Adams, said.

UN special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, Surya Subedi, called for an end to the ban on political gatherings.

"Tolerance is crucial for the future of democracy," Mr Subedi said.

"I regret that a peaceful act of hanging a banner on the barbed wire should have led private security guards to take out batons to beat protesters, while the police looked on, which in turn led to acts akin to mob violence."

Hun Sen, 61, has in recent years imposed political order and overseen economic growth after decades of conflict and turmoil.

But now the former Khmer Rouge guerrilla and self-styled "strongman" of politics is facing social-media-savvy younger voters hungry for change.

Some analysts say Cambodia's population, 70 per cent of whom were born after the 1970s and 1980s "Killing Fields" years, is no longer willing to put up with authoritarian rule in the name of peace.


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