Updated: 01/27/2014 15:12 | By Agence France-Presse

Cambodia police use smoke grenades to break up rally

Cambodian riot police on Monday used smoke grenades and electric batons to disperse demonstrators in the capital demanding a government licence for an independent television station.

Cambodia police use smoke grenades to break up rally

A Cambodian Buddhist monk walks in front of military police officers during a protest in Phnom Penh on January 27, 2014 - by Tang Chhin Sothy

In the latest of a series of violent crackdowns on public dissent, scores of riot police forcibly broke up the protest in front of the Ministry of Information, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

About three hundred protesters led by radio station owner Mam Sonando had marched to the ministry to demand a licence for the creation of a television station.

Cambodia has been accused of only granting television licences to pro-government media.

Protesters and journalists -- including an AFP photographer -- were hit by police batons and several were injured during the crackdown, according to rights activists.

"Other radio stations have a TV station, why can't my Beehive radio station?" Sonando, who is a prominent government critic, told AFP.

Activist Am Sam Ath of local rights group Licadho condemned the crackdown on the protesters as a "serious violation of human rights".

Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said police dispersed the protest because it had not been permitted and could have led to violence.

"It was illegal demonstration. So the authorities just implemented the law," he said.

Sonando, who has dual Cambodian-French citizenship, was convicted in October 2012 on charges including insurrection and inciting people to take up arms against the state.

He was released from jail last March after a court cleared him of a secessionist plot, slashing his 20-year jail term and ordering his release from prison.

Authorities have quelled recent street protests against strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen. His government has indefinitely banned demonstrations in the capital by the opposition, which accuses him of vote-rigging in a general election last year.

Baton-wielding police clashed Sunday with protesters -- including Buddhist monks -- demanding higher wages for garment workers and the release of 23 people arrested during a recent bloody crackdown on striking garment workers, which left at least four civilians dead.

Hun Sen faces mounting criticism by rights groups of his government's suppression of street protests intended to challenge his nearly three-decade rule.

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