PHNOMPENH: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday denied his ruling party orchestrated mass rallies against an opposition leader who allegedly described a notorious Khmer Rouge prison as a Vietnamese invention.
“The Cambodian People’s Party [CPP] is not playing dirty tricks,” strongman Hun Sen said in a speech on national radio, barely a week after all opposition MPs were controversially expelled from parliament ahead of upcoming elections.
“If CPP leaders, especially Hun Sen . . . lead the protest, you cannot bear it,” he said.
Had it been his party which organized the protests, opposition figures would have been forced to seek asylum with foreign embassies, Hun Sen said.
About 10,000 Cambodians protested in the capital on Sunday against Kem Sokha, the deputy head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), who purportedly said that Tuol Sleng prison in the capital Phnom Penh was fabricated by Vietnamese soldiers who ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979.
The CNRP has said his remarks—posted on a government website last month—were doctored to cause “political trouble” before the July 28 elections, when Hun Sen is seeking to extend his nearly three decades in power.
Kem Sokha has accused the ruling party of inciting the protests against him, and complained that his political meetings were disrupted by hundreds of protesters this week.
He urged the government to take measures so that he could continue his activities without harassment and to ensure the upcoming polls would be free and fair.
Hun Sen has led the country since 1985 and his government is regularly accused of suppressing political freedoms and mistreating activists. He called for the rallies to be suspended to clear the air before the polls.
But his administration has already faced international pressure over the elections. On Monday it accused foreign governments of interfering in its internal politics, after the United States said it was “deeply concerned” at parliament’s expulsion of opposition lawmakers.
All 28 MPs belonging to the two opposition parties were accused of violating parliament’s internal rules by leaving their parties to create a new political force—CNRP—to challenge Hun Sen.
They are not banned from standing in the election.
The Cambodian leader’s main opponent, Sam Rainsy, is barred from running in the election because of convictions, which he contends are politically motivated.