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Demonstrators Beat Up 2 Cambodian Opposition Lawmakers

AP Editors Monday, Oct. 26, 2015

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Two members of Cambodia's opposition party were beaten up Monday outside the National Assembly by protesters who were demanding that the deputy opposition leader step down as parliamentary vice president.

More than 1,000 demonstrators had gathered Monday morning to demand the resignation of Kem Sokha, deputy leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party. Kem Sokha has been more aggressive than party leader Sam Rainsy in his criticism of long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has replied in kind. Monday's protesters appeared to be supporters of Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party.

Opposition spokesman Yim Sovann said lawmakers Nhoy Chamreoun and Kong Sakphea were beaten after leaving the morning session of the assembly. One was knocked temporarily unconscious and the other was seen with a bloodied nose.

The opposition party issued a statement appealing to authorities to immediately arrest and prosecute the attackers.

In the past two years, gangs of man with sticks, staves and other home-made weapons have often confronted protests by the opposition and other dissidents, while police stand aside.

Hun Sen has been in power for almost three decades, and while Cambodia is formally democratic, his government is authoritarian and known for intimidating opponents. He and his party had maintained an uneasy detente on political reform to end an opposition boycott of Parliament protesting alleged cheating by the ruling Cambodian People's Party in the 2013 general election.

However, relations between the government and the opposition deteriorated earlier this year as the Cambodia National Rescue Party tried to make an issue of land encroachment by neighboring Vietnam, with whom Hun Sen's government maintains good relations.

Alleged bullying by traditional enemy Vietnam is a volatile issue, and tensions between the two countries rose as a result. For Hun Sen, the issue posed a political threat, and he retaliated by pressing serious legal charges against opposition members in what are widely seen as politically biased courts.

Hun Sen, who is currently on a visit to France, has recently been warning of civil war if the opposition wins the next election, suggesting that his followers would not accept such a result.

Long Dimanche, a spokesman for Phnom Penh's city government, said that as of late Monday, no one had been arrested for the attacks.

He said the morning rally against Kem Sokha had been held without official permission, and that protest leaders agreed to end their action when asked to by the authorities. He claimed that the demonstrators left before the attack, so that the protesters were not the ones involved in the violence.

"Of course we regret all the violence carried out against any people, not only the opposition, and we will find the attackers, but from what I learned the attackers were not the protesters from that rally in the morning," Long Dimanche said in a telephone interview.

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