SINGAPORE - At least four striking garment workers were killed and 22 injured as military police opened fire in Phnom Penh, in the third and worst day so far of clashes, which followed weeks of protests against the government.
Violence and arson were being reported from the capital's Veng Sreng industrial district until Friday evening, with one police station reportedly on fire. Security forces blocked roads into the capital to prevent more workers and opposition supporters from joining the protests.
The garment industry employs up to 500,000 people and is an engine of the Cambodian economy, earning around US$5 billion (S$6.3 billion) a year in exports. Unions are striking to demand a higher minimum wage.
Last week, the Ministry of Labour set the minimum monthly wage for the sector this year at US$95 - far less than the unions' demand of US$160. The previous wage was US$80. The unions called a strike.
The ministry conceded an additional hike of US$5, but that has failed to stem the anger.
Over the last week, thousands of garment workers have taken to the streets. They have joined supporters of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), which has been protesting for weeks, alleging cheating in the July 31 election and demanding fresh polls. The CNRP has promised workers the hike they want if it comes to power.
Last week, a spokesman for the government of Mr Hun Sen called the protests a "rebellion".
Around 2am on Friday, police sought to clear striking workers who had put up road blocks and were burning tyres in the area.
Hours later, the workers, armed with sticks and stones and Molotov cocktails, clashed with military police in the factory district. Police shot directly at protesters, eyewitnesses said.
"If we allow them to continue the strike, it will become anarchy," said military police spokesman Kheng Tito, adding that nine policemen had been injured by stones and slingshots.
Police said four workers had been killed, but non-governmental organisation Adhoc put the number of dead at five.
The non-governmental organisation Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights called the incident "the worst state violence against civilians to hit Cambodia in 15 years".
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