Cambodia celebrated its 65th year of independence on Friday, with King Norodom Sihamoni using the occasion to call for national unity after years of political discord in the country.
Some 25,000 government officials, civil servants and members of the security forces took part in the annual event in Phnom Penh, with a parade through the capital to the Royal Palace.
King Sihamoni ended the parade by lighting the Victory Flame at Independence Monument before he and Prime Minister Hun Sen gave speeches to the large crowd at the palace.
Addressing the crowd at the palace, King Sihamoni gave thanks to his father, the late King Norodom Sihanouk, who pushed for independence from French colonial rule in the 1950s.
“I would like to ask everyone to unite with each other under our state laws and constitution to protect our nation in all areas,” he said.
The celebrations also included the anniversary of the creation of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.
In recent months, the government has come under fire for a widespread crackdown on critics, civil society and the press, as well as the banning of the country’s main opposition party and the arrest of its leader, Kem Sokha, ahead of the general election in July.
The United States has called the election illegitimate and threatened to freeze the assets of officials who are alleged to have committed rights abuses. The European Union is also considering withdrawing Cambodia from its Everything But Arms preferential trade scheme, which allowed tariff-free access for Cambodian garment and footwear products to EU markets.
Speaking at the Independence Day celebrations, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he was committed to preserving peace and national unity against what he described as “interference” from western powers and local actors whose aim was to “create a color revolution” and “provoke political instability and chaos” in Cambodia.
Ahead of the event, Sokha, who is now living under house arrest on treason charges after spending a year behind bars, wrote a public letter in which he said he hoped to see Cambodians united in the future and expressed thanks to the military for protecting the nation.
Michael Pompeo, US secretary of state, also offered Washington’s congratulations, saying the “strong bond” between the two nations “benefits both our countries, and we share your hope for a free, prosperous, and just society.”