Cambodia PM ignores boycott to convene parliament
Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni greets new parliamentarians in Phnom Penh on September 23, 2013.
Anti-riot police were deployed near the National Assembly following weeks of political turmoil that has at times descended into violence in one of the biggest challenges to Hun Sen's nearly three decades in power.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) refused to take its seats for the opening session of the lower house, warning that the kingdom was sliding towards "dictatorship".
Despite the boycott, King Norodom Sihamoni asked Hun Sen to form a new government, which must be approved by a majority of the newly elected lawmakers in a vote expected to take place on Tuesday.
The CNRP, which is demanding an independent investigation into the contested July elections, decried what it described as a "one-party parliament".
"It totally contradicts the principle of democracy, freedom and multi-party pluralism and is bringing Cambodia toward dictatorship again," it warned.
Hun Sen said he would "serve the nation and the people for greater prosperity and progress" in a letter to thank the king for his support.
According to official results of the July polls, the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won 68 seats against 55 for the CNRP.
The opposition has rejected the tally, alleging widespread vote irregularities.
Tens of thousands of opposition supporters joined three days of demonstrations in the capital earlier this month that saw one protester shot dead and several wounded as security forces clashed with a stone-throwing crowd.
Rights activists also accused dozens of police and thugs in civilian clothing of launching a violent crackdown on a peaceful vigil at a pagoda in the capital late on Sunday using electric batons and slingshots.
Nine demonstrators as well as several foreign and local journalists were injured, witnesses said.
"They treated us like animals," prominent land rights activist Tep Vanny told AFP.
The police action came after military police on Friday expelled a pro-opposition Cambodian prince -- the king's cousin -- from the same pagoda, where he was holding a hunger strike demanding "justice for voters".
Hun Sen, who suffered his worst poll result in 15 years in July, last week agreed to find a peaceful solution to the dispute in talks with his main rival Sam Rainsy, but he has ruled out an independent probe.
The 61-year-old former Khmer Rouge cadre -- who defected and oversaw Cambodia's rise from the ashes of war -- has vowed to rule until he is 74.
Garment exports and tourism have brought buoyant economic growth but Cambodia remains one of the world's poorest countries and the government is regularly accused of ignoring human rights and suppressing political dissent.
Younger Cambodians are also increasingly intolerant of endemic corruption and perceived social injustices including land grabs.
Cambodia's king -- who had urged the opposition to take up their seats -- on Monday urged lawmakers to work towards social justice and good governance in his speech to parliament.
"The Cambodian nation must stand united and show the highest national solidarity on the basis of the implementation of the principles of democracy and rule of law," he said.
The ruling party has sufficient seats to rubber stamp the appointment of Hun Sen and his government in a vote expected to be held on Tuesday in the absence of the opposition MPs.
Foreign diplomats were invited to the start of parliament, but US Ambassador William Todd stressed his attendance was not an approval of the poll outcome.
"I came today basically for patronage for the King, but this in no way is an endorsement of the election result," he told reporters.
"America still believes that the election results still have errors and irregularities that need to be looked into," he added.
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