Cambodia protesters call off rally after bloody crackdown

Cambodia protesters call off rally after bloody crackdown

PHNOM PENH - Anti-government demonstrators said on Saturday they had called off a mass rally they had planned to stage in the Cambodian capital on Sunday after a bloody crackdown on garment workers allied with the protest movement.

The decision to call off the rally came hours after security guards and city workers, watched over by riot police, dismantled a camp occupied by anti-government demonstrators.

Friday's clashes, during which police shot dead four people, have stoked a political crisis in which striking workers and supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) are challenging a government they say cheated its way to power and is depriving them of a fair wage.

CNRP leader Sam Rainsy had vowed earlier that Sunday's mass march and rally would go ahead. He also condemned Friday's violence and demanded a thorough investigation. "The Cambodia National Rescue Party would like to inform all national compatriots that the party will suspend the (planned) protest," the CNRP said in a brief statement.

Hundreds of CNRP supporters had been camped since Dec. 15 in tents around a stage in Freedom Park, the only place in Phnom Penh where protests are allowed.

Unions representing garment workers want better pay and support the CNRP's demands for a re-run of an election in July it says was rigged to allow long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen to remain in power.

Friday's clashes took place at Canadia Industrial Park, also in Phnom Penh, which is home to dozens of factories that make clothing for Western brands such as Adidas, Puma and H&M Hennes & Mauritz.

In Germany, Puma said in a statement production at some of its plants in Phnom Penh had been halted for now but gave no other details. Puma's sporting goods are made in about 400 factories worldwide, 13 of them in Cambodia.

An Adidas statement sent to Reuters said the group was concerned about recent events in Cambodia and was in contact with its suppliers there. It gave no further details.

On Saturday, many CNRP supporters grabbed their belongings and fled, some clutching babies, when they saw riot police approaching Freedom Park, Reuters witnesses said.

Riot police, however, held back from the main site while security guards and city workers in plain clothes, some carrying axes and steel pipes, moved in to dismantle the stage and tents. Three helicopters flew low overhead, while riot police carrying batons kept journalists away from the site.

The CNRP accused "forces in civilian clothing" of beating demonstrators and urged its supporters not to retaliate.

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