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Cambodia rivals meet after protest bloodshed

AFP-JIJI

Cambodia’s political rivals held fresh crisis talks Monday as thousands of people massed for a second day following violent clashes against a disputed election that left one demonstrator dead and several wounded.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy met at the National Assembly in search of a way out of the deepening political standoff, triggered by July polls that were marred by allegations of electoral fraud.

The pair shook hands and sat facing each other in a room inside the parliament building, according to a reporter, before journalists were asked to leave.

The talks follow violent clashes in the capital, Phnom Penh, Sunday on the fringes of a mass demonstration that drew an estimated 20,000 opposition supporters demanding an independent probe into the vote.

Security forces fired smoke grenades, tear gas and water cannon at rock-throwing protesters.

The opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) blamed the authorities for the death of a protester who, according to witnesses, was shot in the head. “The CNRP strongly condemns the cruel violence by police who shot and beat people . . . causing a youth to die and many injuries and arrests by the authorities,” it said in a statement.

Military police spokesman Kheng Tito denied the security forces had fired live ammunition. “The military police used only batons and shields, and police used tear gas. We did not use live rounds,” he said late Sunday.

CNRP official Kuy Bunroeun said the opposition would push for an independent probe of the alleged election irregularities at its meeting with Hun Sen. “Our stance is the same as the people’s. We need an investigation to find the truth so that justice is rendered to the people.”

But senior ruling party member Cheam Yeap said that the talks would only address the sharing of the leadership of the parliament. “It’s too late to create an independent committee (to investigate the results),” he said.

The opposition was holding the second of three planned days of rallies in a park in the capital on Monday to keep up the pressure on Hun Sen.

Hun Sen, 61, has been in power for 28 years and has vowed to rule until he is 74. His government is regularly accused of ignoring human rights and suppressing political dissent.