Wednesday, October 23, 2013

CNRP Protest March: Day 1

The CNRP began another round of demonstrations today, October 23, promising three days of protests based out of Freedom Park in Phnom Penh. Though there have been marches connected to CNRP demonstrations before, this is the first time that it is integral to the protest. The CNRP has promised to march to the UN office and several embassies (the signatories of the 1991 Paris Peace Accord) in order to deliver a petition demanding an independent investigation into significant irregularities and alleged fraud in the 2013 National Assembly elections. The CNRP notification of their intention to march was initially rejected by city hall, raising concerns that an attempt to march might be met with force from the police. But a deal was struck and city hall agreed to a plan for a peaceful march following a specific route with a limited number of participants.

Today, protestors gathered at Freedom Park throughout the morning. Though I was not at Freedom Park this morning, reliable commentators on the scene put the number of protestors at 10,000-20,000 midday before the march, perhaps more later in the day after the march.

Today's march was to the UN Human Rights office and came off peacefully, both sides - police and protestors - behaving responsibly. It followed the agreed upon route though far exceeded the participation cap requested by city hall. The marchers left Freedom Park early afternoon and proceeded up Street 51, across town to Boueng Keng Kang 1 and the UN office. Street barricades were minimal and police presence along the route was comparatively light, except at Sihanouk/Suramarith Boulevard crossing where, in a show of force, hundreds of geared up riot police, soldiers and water cannons stood blocking the road 50 meters to one side of the protest route, guarding the way to the Prime Minister's house and the Independence Monument. The protestors passed without incident and continued into Boeung Keng Kang 1. After the petition was delivered to the UN office, protestors reversed course, making their way back up Street 51 to Freedom Park.

The only point of tension I noticed was at the crossing of Sihanouk Blvd where riot police and marchers came so close. The police stood at the ready, shields in hand with hundreds more police and soldiers in backup. Passing protestors slowed and gawked and sometimes jeered the police lines but CNRP organizers endeavored to keep people moving and CNRP peacekeepers made another impressive display of peaceful protest technique, linking arms to keep people back away from the barricades and police. As Sam Rainsy passed during the return march, he made an abrupt turn to the barricades and stopped, people cheered, several protestors followed, prompting police to move that way as well, drawing jeers from the crowd. He tarried only briefly before moving on, in a 'made you flinch' moment, defusing tension as quickly as he had raised it.

Sam Rainsy began and ended the day on one of his central political themes - the Vietnamese. When he first spoke at Freedom Park before the march he told the crowd that the Vietnamese must leave Cambodia. After the march, back at Freedom Park he ended the day saying that the only support for the CPP was from "ghost voters and Vietnamese."

The following video is of part of the protest march as it passed on Street 51 at about 4:15PM, a bit past the half-way point on its way to the UN Human Rights office.

More information and photos:
Ruom: CNRP starts first day of protests
John Vink: The Afternoon Of Day One…
Omar Havana: First of Three Days of Mass Demonstrations
The Cambodia Daily: Thousands Join Opposition Rally in Phnom Penh
George Steptoe: Day One of Protest: CNRP Slips into Something Comfortable


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