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Thousands March in Funeral for Slain Cambodian Opposition Leader

  • VOA News

Mourners take photos as they watch the funeral procession for Cambodian leading government critic Kem Ley in Phnom Penh, July 24, 2016.

Mourners take photos as they watch the funeral procession for Cambodian leading government critic Kem Ley in Phnom Penh, July 24, 2016.

Tens of thousands of Cambodians joined the funeral procession Sunday of a prominent government critic whose murder earlier this month raised concerns of political violence in the run-up to elections.

Kem Ley, a widely revered public figure, was assassinated while drinking his morning coffee at a gas station in Phnom Penh two weeks ago, sparking a mass outpouring of sorrow, frustration and fury across Cambodia.

Kem Ley was a powerful orator who reached millions through his regular dissections of politics on the radio. He founded the Grass Roots Democracy Party, an entity in which he refused to take a formal position after it was established.

FILE - Police survey the crime scene where Kem Ley was shot dead while family members pray next to his dead body, July 10, 2016.

FILE - Police survey the crime scene where Kem Ley was shot dead while family members pray next to his dead body, July 10, 2016.

Oeut Ang has been charged with murder in connection with the killing. He claimed the shooting was about an outstanding debt.

Still, suspicions mount that the shooting was motivated by Kem Ley's activism and his outspokenness about Prime Minister Hun Sen's 30-year grip on power.

Kem Ley, who was 46, had recently delivered a lengthy commentary on a report that detailed the wealth amassed by the prime minister and his family.

Hun Sen has ordered an investigation into Kem Ley's assassination, which comes at a time of political tension between the prime minister and an opposition challenging the prime minister's long hold on power in local elections in 2017 and a general election in 2018.

FILE - Cambodians pay respect to a slain political analyst Kem Ley at Wat Chas pagoda in Phnom Penh, July 19, 2016. (Leng Len/VOA Khmer)

FILE - Cambodians pay respect to a slain political analyst Kem Ley at Wat Chas pagoda in Phnom Penh, July 19, 2016. (Leng Len/VOA Khmer)

Kem Ley's body has been on display during a two-week mourning period in a transparent casket at a Buddhist temple in the capital where people have paid their respects.

"The assassination of Kem Ley — a calamity in itself — sadly reaffirms the primacy of violence in the politics of Cambodia," said John Coughlan, an Amnesty International researcher.

Mourners follow the body of Cambodian leading government critic Kem Ley in a glass casket carried on a decorated vehicle, top, on the main street during a funeral procession at Chroy Changvar in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 24, 2016.

Mourners follow the body of Cambodian leading government critic Kem Ley in a glass casket carried on a decorated vehicle, top, on the main street during a funeral procession at Chroy Changvar in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 24, 2016.

Sunday's procession began at dawn for the 70-kilometer march to Kem Ley's home province of Takeo. The hearse was followed by people on foot, motorcycles, cars and motor rickshaws.

Anti-riot police were stationed along the route that was lined with thousands of mourners.

Many of the marchers wore white T-shirts with pictures of Kem Ley. Some shirts had the printed slogan: "Wipe our tears and continue your journey."

Kem Ley's funeral will be held Monday in Takeo.

Some material for this report came from AP, AFP and Reuters.

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