Updated: 01/04/2014 20:00 | By Agence France-Presse

Cambodian police put an end to opposition rallies

Cambodian authorities Saturday dispersed opposition protesters from their rally base in the capital and halted further protests against the kingdom's premier, a day after police launched a deadly crackdown on striking garment workers.

Cambodian police put an end to opposition rallies

Cambodian Buddhist monks and protesters flee from the Democracy Park as security personnel armed with shields and batons flood into the area, in Phnom Penh, on January 4, 2014

Dozens of security personnel armed with shields and batons flooded into the area in central Phnom Penh, causing several hundred protesters to flee, according to an AFP photographer at the scene. 

"They won't be allowed to rally, to protest, or to hold any political activities at the park any more," military police spokesman Kheng Tito told AFP. He said police had not used force, although this was disputed by the opposition.

It comes a day after a crackdown on textile workers that left at least three dead, and which rights campaigners condemned as the country's worst state violence against civilians in more than a decade.

Strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen faces a growing challenge to his nearly three-decade rule from garment workers protesting for better conditions and opposition supporters demanding that he step down and call a new election because of alleged vote fraud in a July poll.

Authorities said unrest in recent days had prompted them to put a stop to the capital's daily anti-government rallies.

Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong said in a statement that the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) would not be allowed to hold demos or marches "until the security situation and public order is restored to normal".

The opposition party, which has boycotted parliament since the disputed July election, slammed the police action.

"This is the act of a communist dictatorship," opposition spokesman Yim Sovann told AFP.

The party, which had planned a major three-day protest starting from Sunday, issued a statement urging supporters to "keep calm" while the party deliberates over a fresh strategy.

It said armed security officials and plain clothes officers beat its supporters and accused authorities of "savage tactics".

Protesters have occupied Democracy Park since December as part of demonstrations against premier Hun Sen's government that swelled to an estimated 20,000 opposition supporters on the streets last Sunday.

Hun Sen, who last month ruled out holding new elections or stepping down, was given parliamentary approval for a new five-year term in late September. The opposition decried that as a "constitutional coup".

Cambodia's leader has faced mounting criticism over his rights record and accusations of excessive force used against demonstrators in a series of clashes between security forces and protesters in recent months. 

Striking garment workers have also been seen to team up with opposition protesters demanding Hun Sen step down.

The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, an independent activist group, said a "violent clampdown on human rights" over the last three days had "resulted in further deterioration of the state of democracy".

Friday's violence saw striking workers armed with sticks, rocks and Molotov cocktails clash with rifle-wielding police in the Veng Sreng factory district of Phnom Penh.

The protest, demanding a minimum wage of $160 per month, followed similar action by workers in another industrial district of the city on Thursday, which rights groups said was dispersed by armed military police.  

The UN's special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, Surya P Subedi, criticised Friday's shootings, calling on the government to launch an investigation.

Washington on Friday also appealed for peaceful dialogue and denounced the violence, urging all sides to exercise restraint.

Disputes over wages and safety conditions are common in Cambodia's multi-billion dollar garment industry, which supplies brands like Gap, Nike and H&M and which has brought buoyant economic growth to what is still one of Asia's poorest countries.

The sector employs about 650,000 people and is a key source of foreign income.

CCHR has said at least 25 demonstrations were violently repressed in 2013 by security forces using guns, tear gas, water cannon and batons, leaving two people dead, one person paralysed and causing three women to suffer miscarriages.

Hun Sen -- a 61-year-old former Khmer Rouge cadre who defected and oversaw Cambodia's rise from the ashes of war -- has ruled for 28 years, and has vowed to continue until he is 74.

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