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Raucous Rallies Sweep Through Capital

Five major parties undertook noisy, elaborate campaigning in Phnom Penh Thursday, sweeping supporters through the capital's thoroughfares and side streets to the banging of drums, shouting of supporters and blasting of songs, new and old.

Party supporters followed their leaders, bedecked in new T-shirts and ball caps bearing party logos, and adorned with face stickers of party symbols or, simply, the numbered slot each party holds on the ballot.

Police sedans, sirens silent, headlights flashing, led the convoys, along with National Election Committee vehicles, keeping the streets relatively snarl free and preventing clashes between opposing supporters.

The major parties, Cambodian People's, Funcinpec, Sam Rainsy, Norodom Ranariddh and Human Rights, hung pictures and slogans on cars and motorcycles, to parade through the capital. No minor parties held rallies in Phnom Penh, reserving their efforts for the rural areas.

The ruling CPP, fourth on the ballot, used around 100 trucks and numerous motorcycles, loaded with activists, bringing together about 13,000 people, a spokesman said. Prime Minister Hun Sen, a candidate for Kandal province, joined, as party loudspeakers broadcast messages of relief for the poor.

"Bravo, nation, religion and king!" people shouted from trucks.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the CPP would only hold rallies at the beginning and end of the campaign period, which runs between June 26 and July 25.

The CPP also mounted large TVs on trucks, which broadcast activities of CPP leaders in rural areas, as well as sports, a new campaign technique this year, Khieu Kanharith said.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, festooned in jasmine flowers, stood in the back of a rally truck, his palms pressed in a sampeas to supporters and crowds that gathered outside homes and shops. Sam Rainsy, whose opposition party is No. 9 on the ballot, is competing for a parliamentary seat in Kampong Cham.

The convoy slowly passed Central Market, broadcasting political messages and pop songs with altered lyrics, such as, "Change, change, change." In one song, a woman sings to a suitor, promising to marry him after the SRP wins the election.

Funcinpec held a quick rally of 100 trucks in Phnom Penh, before taking the convoy to Kampong Cham province, where party president Keo Puthreaksmey is competing.

HRP President Kem Sokha, also competing for a seat in Kampong Cham, and other party leaders led about 70 trucks and an estimated 5,000 supporters in yellow shirts and caps.

"What party do you vote for?" supporters called. "Human Rights Party, No. 11 on the ballot!" came the response.

Around 3,000 activists joined the NRP, No. 1 on the ballot, for its rally of 50 trucks, and an official said the campaign showed that even in the absence of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who is in exile, the party still had the power to gather support.

"Please vote for Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and vote for the Norodom Ranariddh Party," voices sang to a recorded traditional drum beat.

Election observers said the process in Phnom Penh went smoothly, and no incidents of violence were reported.