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1 Protester Killed as Cambodian Political Crisis Escalates

Violence erupted in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, on Sunday, as thousands of opposition activists protested the government's victory in a disputed election. Human rights activists said one protester was killed by a gunshot to the head during a street battle with police.

The violence marked an escalation of a political crisis that has gripped Cambodia since official results from July's election gave a victory to the party of longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen, albeit with a reduced parliamentary majority. The main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party rejected those results alleging widespread fraud.

Sunday's protests began peacefully with about 20,000 opposition activists gathering in Phnom Penh's Freedom Park for a rally addressed by CNRP leader Sam Rainsy. The protesters complained that their votes were stolen and demanded an independent investigation of the disputed election.

Clashes began later, as protesters marched in other parts of the capital and tried to remove street barricades set up by police, who responded by firing tear gas, smoke grenades and water cannons.

Chan Soveth of Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) told VOA that a male demonstrator was fatally shot in the head during a confrontation on an overpass leading to Freedom Park.

"There was a clash that caused people to be injured and killed but we did not know how many were killed. We know that a young man died and we took a photo. Another injured person was shot in his stomach because armed authorities used guns to shoot, and many were arrested."

The French news agency quotes military police spokesman Kheng Tito who denied that security forces used live rounds against the protesters. Another violent clash happened at a police barricade near Phnom Penh's Royal Palace. Several demonstrators were hurt.

Hundreds of Cambodian opposition activists camped in Freedom Park into the night Sunday, vowing to remain for at least several days.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy was due to hold more talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen Monday to try to resolve the crisis. Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni brought the two rivals together on Saturday for a rare meeting that ended without a breakthrough.

Cambodia's election commission certified Mr. Hun Sen's party as the winner of the July election with 68 seats in the national assembly, ahead of Sam Rainsy's CNRP with 55 seats. The certification has left Sam Rainsy with few legal options to challenge the result.

Mr. Hun Sen has led Cambodia for 28 years and is seen by critics as an authoritarian ruler despite overseeing a period of prolonged economic growth.

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