Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has threatened action against the main opposition party if it pushes ahead with a planned mass demonstration in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on Sunday in defiance of a ban on public gatherings at the site.
Blaming the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) for provoking chaos through protests, Hun Sen said legal action could be taken against the party if it forges ahead with a fresh demonstration.
“Our country has laws. If they are moving toward violence, we can’t have any more patience,” he said, speaking at an inauguration ceremony for a hydropower plant in Pursat province.
“We must take legal action.”
The CNRP issued a fresh statement Thursday calling for supporters to join them in Freedom Park on Sunday afternoon, despite being refused permission from City Hall to gather at the site, where authorities used force to suppress the CNRP’s last mass demonstration in early January.
Freedom Park has been a rallying point for mass anti-government protests following flawed elections last year.
Phnom Penh’s City Hall issued a statement Thursday denying the CNRP permission to use the site, saying the park is off-limits for gatherings while authorities investigate violence linked to the early January crackdown.
The CNRP has led a series of mass demonstrations attended by thousands of supporters over the past eight months since elections in July that the party claims were rigged by Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha said the party is determined to move ahead with the rally, criticizing Hun Sen’s threats against the plan as unlawful.
“This is like the law of bandits. This is a dictatorship,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“If they were working in accordance with international laws, they’d have no need to crack down on us.”
The CNRP expects some 5,000 people to attend the event, which will be a “people’s congress” at which party leaders will discuss recent political developments and the party’s decision this week to suspend reform talks with the CPP.
It will be the party’s first mass demonstration since January 4, when authorities violently dispersed protesters in Freedom Park, a day after security forces shot five people dead while putting down a protest elsewhere in the city by garment workers demanding higher wages.
City Hall Spokesman Long Dymong said Thursday that CNRP supporters should gather somewhere other than Freedom Park, which was off-limits while authorities investigated the violence.
“We don’t ban them from gathering. They can express their views inside their office or a private place,” he told RFA.
He said the authorities have discovered that those behind the violence in the Jan. 3 garment workers’ protests had also attended CNRP-led demonstrations in Freedom Park the next day.
The government had previously accused CNRP leaders and other activists of inciting violence the provoked the early January crackdowns.
A new report on recent protests in the country released by the Ministry of the Interior on Thursday linked the CNRP to millions of dollars’ worth of property damaged in the protests.
Some U.S. $73 million dollars of state and private property had been destroyed in mass demonstrations and garment factory strikes in recent months, it said, blaming the CNRP for inciting them and provoking chaos.
“After the election results announced July 28, CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha led demonstrations that incited and provoked people to hold massive demonstrations at Freedom Park,” the report said.
“The illegal demonstrations were aimed at toppling the government through inciting violence.”
Ministry of the Interior Spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the report should be considered a lesson not to stage further demonstrations.
“This is a lesson for the next generation. The demonstration doesn’t do anything to help the country, and we only lose out on benefits,” he said.
Kem Sokha said the report was biased toward Hun Sen’s government.
“The government used their forces to kill people [in the protests], but they put the blame [for violence] on us. No one believes in them,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.