Cambodia opposition protest draws big crowd

Cambodia opposition protest draws big crowd
Sam Rainsy (centre), president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, greets supporters as he marches along a street to foreign embassies during a protest in central Phnom Penh Oct 25, 2013.

PHNOM PENH - About 20,000 Cambodian opposition supporters turned out Friday in a new show of strength as they wrapped up three days of protests against Prime Minister Hun Sen's disputed election win.

Throngs of cheering demonstrators took to the streets of the capital Phnom Penh with opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is demanding an independent probe into alleged vote rigging in July polls that extended Hun Sen's nearly three-decade rule.

During the three-day demonstration, the protesters marched to the local offices of the United Nations as well as the embassies of countries including the United States, China, Britain, France and Australia to urge their intervention in the row.

"I hope we will be successful in our demands. We hope these foreign countries will help us to find justice for the stolen votes," protester Meas Ravuth, 44, told AFP.

The opposition delivered a petition to the UN and the embassies - with two million thumbprints of support - accusing the government of failing to probe election irregularities and of illegally convening parliament in the absence of opposition MPs.

"These steps take Cambodia back to a one-party system of governance," the petition says.

Hun Sen has denied the opposition's allegations.

According to official results of the July polls, the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won 68 seats against 55 for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

Parliament in late September approved a new five-year term for Hun Sen, despite the absence of opposition MPs, in a move decried by the CNRP as a "constitutional coup".

The opposition has boycotted parliament in protest at the alleged election fraud.

The Australian embassy, in a statement released Friday, "urged both parties to continue their dialogue including on electoral reform".

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the demonstration "shows the people are not happy" with the CPP.

"Both the opposition and ruling parties should accept the reality and reach a compromise," he told AFP.

Hun Sen - a 61-year-old former Khmer Rouge cadre who defected and oversaw Cambodia's rise from the ashes of war - has ruled for 28 years, and has vowed to continue until he is 74.

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