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Cambodian Police Open Fire on Protesters

At least one man was killed and three injured when Cambodian riot police fired shots into a crowd of hundreds of protesting garment workers. One policeman was also reported killed in the incident, which came only days before the start of a regional security summit in Phnom Penh.

Cambodian police fired AK-47 rifles to disperse hundreds of workers who were staging a protest for better wages and treatment outside a Phnom Penh garment factory Friday.

The authorities have been cracking down on public demonstrations in the Cambodian capital, in anticipation of next week's Regional Forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is due to join foreign ministers from more than 20 Asia-Pacific countries at the summit.

After the protesting workers scattered, the body of one employee from the Terratex Knitting and Garment Factory was found lying on the road, with a single bullet wound in his chest. A second riot almost broke out when the police attempted to remove the corpse, but eventually the dead worker was loaded into an ambulance and driven off.

Government spokesman Pen Phol said that a policeman died and 26 were wounded by protesters hurling bricks and rocks. He said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed regret over the events.

Chhay Sinarith, deputy chief of the Phnom Penh municipal police, asserted that police fired their guns into the air only after the demonstrators began attacking.

However, opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann strongly condemned the violence, and urged authorities to refrain from using firepower under any circumstances.

It was the fifth day of protests by workers at the Terratex factory. On Wednesday they attempted to march to Cambodia's Ministry of Commerce but were scattered by the riot police. Police said that earlier march was broken up because of safety concerns surrounding the upcoming ASEAN meeting.

A protest leader said the workers were demonstrating against the firing of a union leader and for better working conditions.

The recent demonstrations also come just a month before scheduled national elections. A government spokesman Friday blamed "opposition forces" for orchestrating the incidents in order to embarrass the prime minister ahead of the ASEAN summit and the July 27 elections.