PHNOM PENH —
Security was tightened across Phnom Penh on Saturday, with checkpoints and police deployed on main streets of the city as extra security for a large gathering of opposition supporters. Opposition officials said the extra security likely delayed or prevented many supporters from joining the rally.
Police officials said they were ensuring security by checking vehicles for weapons, as an estimated 20,000 supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party gathered at a public square to protest widespread allegations of irregularities in July’s election.
Police officers numbering from just a few to up to 20 were seen at various checkpoints around the city, stopping vehicles and motorcycles, asking drivers for licenses, and inspecting for contraband.
Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said the checkpoints were necessary to provide proper security and public safety.
“We’re checking to ensure that no weapon can be brought into the city, and we are also checking for traffic regulation,” he said. “We have had to enhance security, because this demonstration organized by the opposition party is very big.”
Opposition officials say the checkpoints were made to discourage people from participating in the Freedom Park demonstration.
“They justify it by saying it is to enhance traffic enforcement and control weapons,” said Khy Vanndeth, a Rescue Party official. “But why are they checking only vehicles that truck people who are going to join the demonstration? There are many checkpoints along the way, and it takes a lot of time to pass each of them, so some of the demonstrators were late and some could not join the demonstration.”
Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the reasons for the checkpoints were twofold.
“It can be to strengthen security, and a threat, because the government also declared on television that it does not want people from the provinces to join this demonstration,” he said. “So it can be a way to prevent or pressure people against participating in the demonstration.”
No outbreaks of violence took place during Saturday’s demonstration, though many shops closed their doors and many children were kept home for fear of clashes.