Pardoned opposition leader returns to Cambodia

Sam Rainsy told supporters crowding capital's international airport that he has 'come home to rescue the country.'

Pardoned opposition leader returns to Cambodia

World Bulletin / News Desk

Thousands of cheering supporters crowded an international airport in Cambodia's capital on Saturday to greet opposition leader Sam Rainsy on his return to the country after being given a royal pardon.

Rainsy had not set foot in Cambodia since being jailed in absentia in 2010 on charges his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) claimed were politically motivated.

He was sentenced after a court found him guilty of manipulating a map to suggest the country was losing land to Vietnam.

Cambodian officials have said that the 64-year-old was granted a royal pardon on 12 July at the request of the country's Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in charge of the country since 1985.

Rainsy is returning to help his party fight Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party in July 28 polls, although he is currently unable to run as his name has been removed from the electoral register.

He told a group of his supporters at Phnom Penh airport on Saturday that he was happy to be back.

"I have come home to rescue the country," he said.

On Wednesday, seven CNRP lawmakers and a party activist were charged with incitement and insurrection after violent clashes with authorities during a protest.

After months of adhering to the CNRP’s strict policy of non-violent protest, party supporters fought back for the first time Tuesday when district security guards tried to break up the demonstration in Phnom Penh - 38 security guards were injured with three in intensive care.

The six "are charged for organizing a riot, incitement of crimes, and intentional use of violence," said Kem Monovithya, CNRP deputy director of public affairs. They are to be sent to a notoriously overcrowded city prison for pre-trial detention.

The charges could see them jailed for up to 30 years.

The aftermath of last year's contentious July 28 election - which the opposition, whose lawmakers have refused to take their seats in parliament, said were fraudulent - saw a wave of peaceful mass demonstrations in the capital attended by thousands calling for Hun Sen to step down or for a re-vote.

Until Tuesday, any violence that occurred during such protests came from the authorities, with police opening live rounds on protesters on a number of occasions, killing a total of seven people.

However, when district security guards tried to snatch a banner from CNRP supporters on Tuesday, the protestors turned on them, kicking and beating them mercilessly. Video footage shows security officials unconscious and covered in blood.

Son Chhay, CNRP chief whip, told AA on Wednesday that the opposition only adheres to non-violent principles and that what happened Tuesday was in no way planned - people just snapped. He also said that lawmakers-elect tried to prevent the violence as it was happening.

“The demonstrators were pissed off. It was not planned,” he said. “The government were the ones who brought all these so-called security people to beat up demonstrators.”

But the government insists the violence was “premeditated.”

Güncelleme Tarihi: 19 Temmuz 2014, 11:23