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Big Rallies, Small Scuffles and Vote-Buying as Campaign's First Week Ends

[Editor's note: For full audio to VOA Khmer's coverage of this story, scroll throughout.]

Thousands of Norodom Ranariddh Party supporters rallied in Phnom Penh Friday, while Sam Rainsy Party members tussled with market guards and the Cambodian People's Party denied accusations of vote-buying, as the first week of commune election campaigning came to an end.

Taxi and van drivers, meanwhile, were asked not to gouge workers traveling home to vote April 1, and thousands of candidates from a dozen parties continued to court the electorate.

"Long live the NRP, a party that fights corruption!" supporters chanted in unison behind the party's election headquarters, while leaders said authorities had done well to regulate traffic and no violence occurred.

An estimated 6,000 people attended.

"I believe the NRP will be a party to get a majority vote because many people support the prince and his principles," one supporter told VOA.

The party was formed after its leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, was ousted from his old party, Funcinpec, which still shares power with the CPP.

Some onlookers Friday were Funcinpec supporters and lamented the split in the parties.

"When I see the rallies of both parties converge, my feelings are normal, and we should be united for national construction," Funcinpec supporter Chan Ny said as he watched the rally.

To listen to Mony report in Khmer, .

Sam Rainsy Party officials said supporters at Phnom Penh's O'Russei Market clashed with market security guards following the distribution of party fliers late Friday.

Ten guards attacked a truck and tussled with supporters, taking their fliers and telling them they could not distribute material near the market, officials and supporters told VOA at the scene.

To listen to Heng Reaksmey report in Khmer, .

The CPP denied accusations it was buying votes with small gifts in Kandal province, but residents told VOA they had been given cash and sarongs.

Some said taking gifts made them afraid to vote their mind, but others told VOA they took the gifts and would vote for whomever they wanted.

"In my family, we are three," a Kandal resident told VOA. "We got 15,000 riel and three sarongs. I accepted them because I am poor, but when I go to the polls, I decide on my own. I cannot tell you what I'm going to do. After I check the mark, I put [my ballot] in the box [and] nobody can see it."

To listen to Suon Kanika report in Khmer, .

Taxi drivers and minivan drivers should keep their prices reasonable in the days before the election, a leading union leader said Friday.

In an appeal to the transportation entrepreneurs, Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, said the elections were an important step toward change and that laborers in Phnom Penh and other cities should be able to return to their home communes to vote without suffering fare hikes.

To listen to Sumedh Chhim report in Khmer, .

Potential voters, meanwhile, attended a political debate in Takmau, part of the National Democratic Institute's efforts to bring 31 debates to 10 provinces in the run-up to the election. Several parties gave stump speeches that were followed by a question and answer session.

To listen to Kong Soth report in Khmer, .

As Cambodians entered the eighth day of campaigning, officials from the two emerging opposition parties told VOA they were dealing with harassment, intimidation and threats.

Village chiefs and deputy chiefs for the Sam Rainsy Party were feeling threatened, party Secretary-General Mu Sochua said.

"We are a victim of many threats," NRP spokesman Muth Chantha said.

A CPP official said there had been no problems, but a watchdog official said there have been "a number of irregularities" in campaigning so far.

To listen to Chun Sakada report in Khmer, .