Hun Sen under pressure as unrest grows in Cambodia

Hun Sen under pressure as unrest grows in Cambodia
Leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Sam Rainsy (R) greets supporters during a demonstration in Phnom Penh

CAMBODIA - Cambodia garment workers unhappy with a minimum wage increase that fell far short of demands have taken to the streets of Phnom Penh, joining tens of thousands of opposition supporters protesting against the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The government announced on Tuesday that the garment sector's minimum wage would go up to US$95 (S$120) from US$80 next April, the first step in a five-year plan to eventually raise the minimum wage to US$160 by 2018.

But the 19 per cent increase fell far short of the US$65 increase demanded by unions.

The workers' actions since Tuesday have threatened to feed into the unrest that erupted after a bitterly divisive election earlier this year.

Mr Hun Sen, who remains confident that the situation is under control, is visiting his country's neighbour and old ally Vietnam this week.

More than 10,000 garment factory workers joined the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) in protests in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.

Many thousands more went on strike at factories across the country to protest against the US$15 rise that they saw as inadequate.

The CNRP, whose 30,000- strong rally on the streets of the capital on Sunday is believed to be the biggest protest against Mr Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP), has been quick to support the garment workers' demands.

CNRP leader Sam Rainsy promised to deliver a "tsunami" of opposition to Mr Hun Sen.

The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, meanwhile, urged members to stop operations for a week.

Part of the reason, reports said, is the fear that "agitators" would cause damage to factories to force t h e m t o close.

The garment sector, which employs half a million workers, is Cambodia's biggest export earner, accounting for 12 per cent of its gross domestic product in 2011.

Cambodia has seen vigorous economic growth with per capita income expected to reach US$1,036 this year, according to Mr Hun Sen.

But while a well-connected business-political elite has grown wealthy, the bulk of the population remains poor.

In the July election, t h e CPP won only 68 seats, down from 90 in the previous election in 2008.

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