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Ban Lifted From Freedom Park

Police officers stand guard at Freedom Park during a protest in central Phnom Penh July 15, 2014.

City Hall has lifted the ban on public assembly at Freedom Park, which was at the center of opposition protests over the last year and the ignition point for violent clashes that led to the arrests of a handful of opposition lawmakers.

Shortly after the clashes, political deal was struck between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

On Wednesday police rolled up concertina wire that had been used as part of a blockade in force since violent protests in January, opening the park.

Mu Sochua, a lawmaker for the Cambodia National Rescue Party who had led numerous nonviolent protests to reopen the park, told reporters at the site Wednesday she felt victorious. “We served the people for democracy,” she said.

Cheam Yiep, a lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the park was reopened because the political deadlock between the two sides was at an end.

But Am Sam Arth, lead investigator for the rights group Licadho, said he hoped the park would now remain open and free from politics. “From now on, I urge both parties not to use Freedom Park as a political hostage,” he said.

The reopening of the park comes after 55 members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party swore in at the National Assembly, ending a boycott of government.

But development organizations say all the work is not done, and more reforms are necessary. Among those are revised rules for the National Assembly, electoral reform, and term limits for the prime minister—a position Hun Sen has held in one form or another since 1985.