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Massive Police Presence as Housing Activists Gather in Capital

Riot police officers attend a training session ahead of demonstrations in central Phnom Penh October 21, 2013. The training session on Monday was conducted ahead of a non-violent protest by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), that is scheduled to take place on October 23 to 25.
More than 1,000 riot police were deployed to the heart of Phnom Penh on Monday, where demonstrators for housing rights gathered to demand resolutions to ongoing evictions and poor resettlement deals.

Some 100 demonstrators had planned to hold a “people’s assembly” at the government-sanctioned Freedom Park, but that gathering was canceled and some of them moved their protest about 200 meters away.

No clashes were reported between the protesters, who represented at least 20 different communities across 24 provinces and cities, and riot police armed with shields, electric batons and water cannons.

The demonstration and the police reaction to it were preludes to a massive three-day demonstration planned by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party to begin Wednesday.

Protesters wore white ribbons wrapped around their heads that read, “People’s Assembly.”

One woman at the site told VOA Khmer that in her community, in Koh Kong province, more than 200 families were waiting for land issues to be resolved. She urged the new government to help them.

“The Koh Kong provincial court has issued summons for us many times, to answer at court, but until now we have received nothing,” said the woman, who asked that she not be named.

Lao Mong Hay, an independent political analyst who was present at the gathering, said the assembly was a demonstration of the freedom of expression.

But he said such a large police presence was not necessary: banning people from holding an assembly is unconstitutional.