Jan 03 2014

Protests in Phnom Penh 2014

Published by at 9:11 am under Phnom Penh

UPDATE (Sunday, January 5): Authorities forcefully cleared the main protest site — Freedom Park — in Phnom Penh on Saturday and banning any more street demonstrations. Although the opposition party has said it will follow the ban, it is not sure whether protesters will show up today or not. Stay well clear of the Wat Phnom and Old Market area.

Take extra care with your personal belongingsbag snatching does happen in Phnom Penh and can be more likely in times of tension. Be aware of your bag and camera, especially when standing on street corners checking a map, walking around or travelling by tuk tuk or moto.

If you’re headed for Cambodia and doing your research, you’ll have noticed that it’s not quite business as usual in Phnom Penh. Ongoing protests by the opposition party against the August election results are mixing with demonstrations and strikes by garment factory workers; police on Friday shot dead at least three protesting garment workers.

Security forces are on higher alert than this.

Security forces are on higher alert than this.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party has been organising protests since August. The majority of the marches have been peaceful, even festive affairs, with a few exceptions. In September, one demonstrator was shot, which led to a reassessment of tactics from the police and an agreement from protesters not to throw stones or bottles at the uniformed forces. Before Christmas, tens of thousands took to the streets to parade peacefully in tuk tuks and on motorbikes, wearing headbands and chanting through megaphones, demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Garment workers in happier times.

Garment workers in happier times.

Sadly, this calm has not prevailed at the garment workers’ strike locations. Garment workers have been out on strike for two weeks, holding out for an improvement in the minimum wage. An increase to $100 a month has just been announced, but unions want a standard monthly salary of $160.

The government is encouraging people to go back to work, while garment companies are closing premises to protect their stock, buildings and staff. In the few days since New Year’s Eve, striking workers, union leaders and monks have been shot and beaten in clashes outside factories. Police claim the violence began with projectiles from demonstrators; protesters allege the police started throwing bottles first. Either way, the result has been increased tension and a lack of discussion, with young men, possibly not employed by the factories, getting in on the action with nighttime bonfires and barricades.

Avoid trouble spots.

Avoid trouble spots.

It’s important to stress that tourists are not being targeted in any way, but the unfocussed nature of the violence at the strikes in recent days means you should definitely keep clear of the troubled areas. Garment factories tend to be situated on national highways out of the city and well away from the usual tourist areas, but some protesters have been edging closer to town. As usual, the advice is to move quickly away from any protests you might come across, but without losing your cool.

For many visitors, the attractions of Angkor Wat, Sihanoukville, Kampot and Battambang are higher up the list than Phnom Penh, and although the capital is the main transport hub, you’re unlikely to have your trip affected. If you do spend a few days in Phnom Penh, road blocks or rallies may make your navigation a little trickier, and you should check the local media to keep up to date with the situation and find out which areas to avoid — check for the latest in  the Phnom Penh Post and Cambodia Daily and if the situation changes quickly, we’ll post an update on our Facebook page.

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