Cambodian police and opposition supporters clash, dozens hurt

PHNOM PENH, July 15 Tue Jul 15, 2014 5:20am EDT

PHNOM PENH, July 15 (Reuters) - Cambodian opposition supporters tried to re-open a protest site on Tuesday in defiance of a ban on political gatherings and dozens of people were hurt in clashes with police and three opposition members of parliament were detained.

The skirmishes near the capital's Freedom Park were the latest unrest since a disputed election a year ago which the government of long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen said it won despite surprising opposition gains.

The park was the only place in Phnom Penh where protests were allowed until it was closed in January after supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) held a protest there aimed at toppling Hun Sen.

Phnom Penh municipality spokesman Long Dimanche said three CNRP lawmakers including Mu Sochua, a party leader, were taken into police custody after their supporters attacked guards who prevented them from re-opening the park.

"The opposition party led a protest that is illegal causing disorder and violence," said Long Dimanche, adding that 37 city security guards were injured.

A Reuters reporter at the scene said the guards attacked the CNRP supporters with batons after the activists tried to string up banners on a barbed wire fence surrounding the park.

That sparked retaliation from the crowd, some of whom beat guards, according to the Reuters witness. Riot police dispersed the protesters with teargas.

The opposition says the election in July last year was rigged to allow Hun Sen to stay in power and is calling for him to step down or for a re-run of the vote.

Hun Sen and his government have dismissed accusations of vote rigging.

Over the past year the veteran leader has faced some of the biggest protests ever seen in Cambodia with factory workers from a multi-billion dollar apparel industry linking up with the political opposition to demand better pay.

The human rights group LICADHO condemned the violence.

"LICADHO deplores the use of violence by any party, urges that a full, fair and transparent investigation take place as soon as possible and calls for the exercise of restraint by all," the group's director, Naly Pilorge, said in a statement. (Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Robert Birsel)

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