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Cambodia rivals meet after protest bloodshed

CNRP said the opposition would push for an independent probe of the alleged election irregularities at its meeting with Hun Sen

Phnom Penh: Cambodia’s political rivals held fresh crisis talks on Monday as thousands of people massed for a second day following violent clashes against a disputed election that left one demonstrator dead and several wounded.

prime minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy met at the national assembly in search of a way out of the deepening political standoff triggered by July polls marred by allegations of electoral fraud.

The pair shook hands and sat facing each other in a room inside the parliament building, according to an AFP reporter, before journalists were asked to leave.

The talks follow violent clashes in the capital Phnom Penh on Sunday on the fringes of a mass demonstration that drew an estimated 20,000 opposition supporters demanding an independent probe into the vote.

Security forces fired smoke grenades, tear gas and water cannon at rock-throwing protesters.

The opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) blamed the authorities for the death of a protester who, according to witnesses, was shot in the head.

“The CNRP strongly condemns the cruel violence by police who shot and beat people... causing a youth to die and many injuries and arrests by the authorities," it said in a statement.

Military police spokesman Kheng Tito denied the security forces had fired live ammunition.

“The military police used only batons and shields and police used tear gas. We did not use live rounds," he said late Sunday.

CNRP official Kuy Bunroeun said the opposition would push for an independent probe of the alleged election irregularities at its meeting with Hun Sen.

“Our stance is the same as the people’s.

We need an investigation to find the truth so that justice is rendered to the people."

But senior ruling party member Cheam Yeap told AFP that the talks would only address the sharing of the leadership of the parliament.

“It’s too late to create an independent committee (to investigate the results)," he said.

The opposition was holding the second of three planned days of rallies in a park in the capital on Monday to keep up the pressure on Hun Sen.

“Our votes were robbed," said 56-year-old Srin Chea, who travelled from southern Kandal province.

“I am angry. I want justice. I am not afraid of death."

Hun Sen, 61, has been in power for 28 years and has vowed to rule until he is 74.

His government is regularly accused of ignoring human rights and suppressing political dissent.

Rainsy addressed cheering supporters at the main protest site on Sunday, calling for a recount or new vote.

He said opposition lawmakers would boycott the opening of the parliament on 23 September unless the government addressed the alleged election irregularities.

“Brothers, this is an important mission to rescue the nation," Rainsy told demonstrators, many holding banners reading “my vote, my nation" and “where is my vote?"

The violence came despite a rare meeting on Saturday between Rainsy and Hun Sen, hosted by King Norodom Sihamoni, that was later described by the opposition leader as a “first step" towards ending the crisis.

In a statement released on Monday, Sihamoni offered condolence to the families of the dead and injured.

“I would like to appeal to compatriots —both demonstrators and the authorities — to stop all violence such as throwing rocks and using weapons that would inflict injuries and death and cause serious danger to our entire nation," he said.

According to final election results, Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won 68 seats in the July polls against 55 for the opposition.

Rainsy, a French-educated former banker, was barred from running in the July elections because his name was removed from the electoral register last year following criminal convictions he contends were politically motivated.

He returned from several years of self-imposed exile in July after receiving a surprise royal pardon.

The CNRP has rejected the tally, alleging widespread vote rigging, but so far its efforts to challenge the results have failed and it has few formal options left in its bid to overturn Hun Sen’s victory. AFP

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