PHNOM PENH – Cambodian authorities Saturday dispersed opposition protesters from their rally base in the capital and halted further protests against the kingdom’s strongman leader, a day after police launched a deadly crackdown on striking garment workers.
Dozens of security personnel armed with shields and batons flooded into the area in central Phnom Penh, causing several hundred protesters to flee. There did not immediately appear to be serious clashes as a result of the move.
The dispersal came a day after a crackdown on textile workers that left at least three dead. Rights campaigners condemned the killings as the country’s worst state violence against civilians in more than a decade.
Authorities said the recent unrest had prompted them to put a stop to the daily anti-government rallies.
Phnom Penh Gov. Pa Socheatvong said in a statement that the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party would not be allowed to hold demonstrations or marches “until the security situation and public order is restored to normal.”
The opposition party, which has boycotted parliament since a disputed July election that returned strongman Hun Sen to power, had planned a major three-day protest starting Sunday.
“This is the act of communist dictatorship,” opposition spokesman Yim Sovann said.
Protesters have occupied Democracy Park since December as part of demonstrations against Hun Sen’s government. The demonstrations swelled to an estimated 20,000-plus opposition supporters on the streets last Sunday.
Hun Sen faces a growing challenge to his nearly three-decade rule from protesting garment workers and opposition supporters demanding that he step down and call a new election because of alleged vote fraud in the July poll.
The recent violence saw striking workers armed with sticks, rocks and Molotov cocktails clash with rifle-wielding police in the Veng Sreng factory district of Phnom Penh on Friday.
The U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, criticized the shootings, calling on the government to launch an investigation.
The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, an independent activist group, has said at least 25 demonstrations were violently repressed in 2013 by security forces using guns, tear gas, water cannon and batons, leaving two people dead, one person paralyzed and causing three women to suffer miscarriages.
Hun Sen — a 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 has vowed to continue until he is 74.
Parliament in late September approved a new five-year term for Hun Sen. The opposition decried that as a “constitutional coup.”
Last month Hun Sen ruled out holding a new election and rejected opposition calls for him to step down.