World Bulletin/News Desk
Police fired teargas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who had rallied in Cambodia's capital on Sunday to push for an independent investigation into a July election they say was fixed to favour the ruling party.
Protesters threw rocks at police who fired at least 10 teargas canisters near Phnom Penh's Royal Palace, where witnesses and a Reuters journalist said supporters of Cambodia's main opposition party had tried to removed razor wire barricades.
The clash came amid tension heightened by the discovery of a bomb and some grenades around the city on Friday and risk escalating a six-week standoff that has become one of the biggest tests of Prime Minister Hun Sen's three decades in power.
His Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won the election with 68 seats to the Cambodia National Rescue Party's 55, a greatly reduced majority that signals dissatisfaction with his rule despite rapid economic growth in a country that for decades was seen as a failed state.
But the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and its supporters insist they won the July 28 vote and on Sunday they held their second mass rally in eight days to demand an independent investigation into their complaints of vote fraud.
The government has refused to allow that.
"Our vote is our life," CNRP's deputy president, Kem Sokha, told about 20,000 supporters at Freedom Park, where the protest took place.
"They stole our votes, it's like stealing our lives."
REFUSING TO GIVE UP
The clashes late in the afternoon left several people with minor wounds but raised tension to a new level. Police threatened legal action and put razor-wire fences and fire trucks across several roads around the capital in a failed bid to stop demonstrators from marching to the rally.
Talks between the two parties have gone nowhere and a meeting on Saturday at the Royal Palace between King Norodom Sihamoni, Hun Sen and CNRP leader Sam Rainsy resulted in no breakthrough.
The CNRP and CPP were scheduled to resume talks on Monday even though the opposition has vowed to hold protests on both Monday and Tuesday.
The CNRP is refusing to give up until the government agrees to let outsiders conduct an investigation, but the opposition is running out of options.
It plans to try to paralyse the legislature by boycotting parliament when it holds its first session on Sept. 23, arguing that it was cheated out of 2.3 million votes to keep Hun Sen and his party in office for another five years.
The government and the National Election Commission, which former finance minister Sam Rainsy accuses of collusion, are both standing by the official result and the Constitutional Council ruled on Friday that all allegations of foul play had been investigated already and no new investigation was needed.
Hun Sen, 61, has taken credit with steering Cambodia away from its chaotic past towards economic growth and development, but many urban youth born after the Khmer Rouge "Killing Fields" rule from 1975 to 1979 see little appeal in his iron-fisted approach.
Hun Sen and his party are not known for compromising on either domestic or international disputes and few people expect the government to bow to the opposition pressure.
"The CPP won't agree to anything we demand," said CNRP supporter Ngor Lay from the southern province of Kandal. "They just love power and they have the courts in their hands."
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