Cambodia defends bloody protest crackdown


Cambodian workers leaving a textile factory during a protest in Phnom Penh. Photo - AFP

Phnom Penh: Cambodia on Wednesday defended its bloody crackdown on street protests in the face of growing international alarm, denouncing the rallies against strongman premier Hun Sen as violent and illegal.

Anti-government demonstrations have been banned indefinitely after several striking workers were shot dead by police last week while dozens of others were injured.

On Monday five land activists were detained temporarily as they tried to hold a rally.

"The demonstrations abused the law," Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters, insisting that the government had exercised restraint for months.

"The public generally applauds the decision by the government to halt the violent demonstrations," he said.

But the United Nations' human rights office said on Tuesday it was alarmed by Cambodia's crackdown and urged authorities to show restraint.

Hun Sen has faced an increasing challenge to his nearly three - decade rule from garment workers seeking a pay rise, as well as from opposition supporters demanding that he call a new election due to alleged vote fraud in a July poll.

Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Sam Rainsy and his deputy Kem Sokha have been summoned to Phnom Penh Municipal Court on January 14 for questioning in connection with the recent unrest.

The opposition party has boycotted parliament since last year's election, alleging that Hun Sen was returned to power because of widespread vote-rigging.

The 61-year-old prime minister has ruled for 28 years and vowed to continue until he is 74.

He has faced mounting criticism over his rights record as well as accusations of excessive force against demonstrators.

Last Friday police opened fire on striking garment factory employees demanding a minimum wage of $160 per month for their work in an industry which supplies brands like Gap, Nike and H&M.

Rights activists said at least four civilians were shot dead in what they described as the country's worst state violence against its citizens in 15 years.

The strike has since been called off and most of the garment workers have returned to work, while some fled back to their villages in fear.

On Saturday dozens of security personnel armed with shields and batons chased hundreds of opposition protesters — including monks, women and children — from their rally base in a park in the capital, according to activists.

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