Cambodia lifts ban on demonstrations

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia has ended a ban on public protests imposed last month following a deadly crackdown on striking workers, an official said Wednesday, as the opposition vowed to mount fresh rallies.

Four civilians were killed when police opened fire on protesting textile factory workers demanding a minimum wage of US$160 (S$202.40) a month to make clothes for brands including Gap, Nike and H&M.

A day later the government banned demonstrations in the capital by supporters of the opposition, which accuses Prime Minister Hun Sen of vote-rigging in elections last year.

Analysts believe that if the factory workers had joined forces with the opposition protesters they could have posed a serious threat to Hun Sen's nearly three-decade rule.

While the ban has now been lifted, organisers will still have to ask for permission from local authorities to stage protests, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak told AFP.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, Hun Sen's main rival, promised to organise more rallies against the strongman leader in a video clip posted on his Facebook page.

"Before long we will stage more demonstrations. Will they dare to shoot us again?" Rainsy said, pointing to the recent ousting of Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych as reason for hope.

"Be ready brothers to join the protests. When there are two million people it will be like Ukraine. I believe the armed forces will not shoot and kill people but join hands with people."

Hun Sen has faced mounting criticism over his rights record as well as accusations of excessive force used to disperse demonstrators.

The 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 vowed to continue until he is 74.

On Tuesday he warned that any future anti-government demonstrations by the opposition party would be met by rallies of his own supporters.

"I do not encourage (my supporters) to stage demonstrations. I just don't ban them," he said in a televised speech.

"Both the opposition and support groups have the right" to protest, he added.