* Cambodia opposition reverses stand, calls off big Sunday
* Decision follows dismantling of protesters' camp, deadly
clashes with police
* Opposition wants a re-run of 2013 election it says was
By Prak Chan Thul
PHNOM PENH, Jan 4 Anti-government demonstrators
said on Saturday they had called off a mass rally they had
planned to stage in the Cambodian capital on Sunday after a
bloody crackdown on garment workers allied with the protest
The decision to call off the rally came hours after security
guards and city workers, watched over by riot police, dismantled
a camp occupied by anti-government demonstrators.
Friday's clashes, during which police shot dead four people,
have stoked a political crisis in which striking workers and
supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party
(CNRP) are challenging a government they say cheated its way to
power and is depriving them of a fair wage.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy had vowed earlier that Sunday's mass
march and rally would go ahead. He also condemned Friday's
violence and demanded a thorough investigation.
"The Cambodia National Rescue Party would like to inform all
national compatriots that the party will suspend the (planned)
protest," the CNRP said in a brief statement.
Hundreds of CNRP supporters had been camped since Dec. 15 in
tents around a stage in Freedom Park, the only place in Phnom
Penh where protests are allowed.
Unions representing garment workers want better pay and
support the CNRP's demands for a re-run of an election in July
it says was rigged to allow long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen
to remain in power.
Friday's clashes took place at Canadia Industrial Park, also
in Phnom Penh, which is home to dozens of factories that make
clothing for Western brands such as Adidas, Puma
and H&M Hennes & Mauritz.
In Germany, Puma said in a statement production at some of
its plants in Phnom Penh had been halted for now but gave no
other details. Puma's sporting goods are made in about 400
factories worldwide, 13 of them in Cambodia.
An Adidas statement sent to Reuters said the group was
concerned about recent events in Cambodia and was in contact
with its suppliers there. It gave no further details.
On Saturday, many CNRP supporters grabbed their belongings
and fled, some clutching babies, when they saw riot police
approaching Freedom Park, Reuters witnesses said.
Riot police, however, held back from the main site while
security guards and city workers in plain clothes, some carrying
axes and steel pipes, moved in to dismantle the stage and tents.
Three helicopters flew low overhead, while riot police carrying
batons kept journalists away from the site.
The CNRP accused "forces in civilian clothing" of beating
demonstrators and urged its supporters not to retaliate.
Phnom Penh municipality spokesman Long Dimanche said CNRP
leaders had been sent a letter telling them protests would no
longer be tolerated.
"Their protests have been peaceful at the park but their
supporters have marched out of the park, destroying private and
public property, closing down roads and causing social
instability," he said.
Rainsy called for both sides to exercise restraint.
"We deplore and condemn the violence that the armed forces
under the instruction of the current government has used against
workers," Rainsy, a former finance minister, told a media
briefing before the protest camp was cleared.
"So we have made an appeal to both sides, workers and armed
forces to withdraw to stop using any form of violence so we can
find a peaceful solution," Rainsy said.
Amnesty International joined Rainsy and Cambodian rights
group LICADHO in demanding an investigation into the violence.
"The Cambodian government has to rein in its security
forces," said Amnesty's Cambodia researcher Rupert Abbott.
Friday's violence followed a crackdown a day earlier outside
a Yakjin (Cambodia) Inc factory in another part Phnom Penh, when
armed troops hit protesters with batons, wounding 20 people.
Yakjin makes clothing for Gap and Walmart.
The CNRP has won the support of some 350,000 garment workers
from nearly 500 factories across Cambodia by promising to nearly
double the monthly minimum wage to $160 if it wins a re-run of
the July election, which Hun Sen is refusing to hold.
The government is refusing to raise the wage beyond $100
dollars a month and has ordered factories to reopen to prevent
damage and job losses in an industry worth $5 billion a year.
Garment manufacturing is Cambodia's biggest foreign currency
earner and a major employer. Many Western brands outsource
footwear and apparel to Cambodian factories, in part because
labour is cheaper than in China.
A senior official at the Garment Manufacturers Association
in Cambodia has said it was too soon to asse?ss the cost of the
strikes but estimated each factory could be losing
$20,000-$30,000 a day.