CAMBODIAN POLICE CRACK DOWN ON GAS-PRICE PROTESTS


2004.06.02
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PHNOM PENH�The Cambodian government moved some 300 armed police from key locations in downtown Phnom Penh on Tuesday to quell protests over high gas prices, RFA's Khmer service reports. Police detained five students who led the demonstrations, releasing them only after they agreed in writing not to join any future protests.

Ten protesters from the Student Movement for Democracy began demonstrating at around 8 a.m. in downtown Phnom Penh demanding a cut in the price of a liter of gasoline from 3,000 riel (U.S.$.75) to 1,500 riel (U.S. $.37). They drove motorcycles along the city�s main streets before being chased away by some 50 police in front of Chaktumuk High School, behind the Royal Palace.

Students and taxi drivers resumed the protest at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, and a military truck carrying 40 armed police tried to break up the crowd, witnesses said. Demonstrators escaped from police and hid among onlookers. An hour later, hundreds of protesters gathered near the Olympic stadium in central Phnom Penh when scuffles broke out.

Three student leaders-identified as Nou Hem Prum Vireak, Um Sam An, and Yim Sopheap-were arrested but broke free and hid in a nearby Sony electronic shop. They were re-arrested around 9 p.m. along with two other student protest leaders, Sar Long Dat and Ir Channa were arrested.

Police interrogated the five youths for four hours and released them after they agreed in writing not to organize further protests.

"Police asked me who planned the protest," Nou Hem Prum Vireak told reporters outside police headquarters. "I said I did it by my own will for all of the people. I signed an agreement to [no longer protest] but that does not mean I will stop� I will do it again in the future when I get the chance."

Hun Sen's government had banned demonstrations over the weekend, after learning of the planned gas-price protests. A letter signed by Phnom Penh municipal governor Kep Chutema and obtained by RFA says any demonstration "is not a solution but will create a security problem and chaos instead."

"I refuse to allow this demonstration to happen," Kep Chutema told RFA on Saturday. �We met with leaders of the protest [Friday] and I hope they understand the situation, but if they don�t respect the ban... I am under obligation to crack down and disperse them."

Human rights groups and the Cambodian opposition condemned the government for suppressing the protests, which they described as a violation of free speech. #####

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