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Cambodian Opposition Begins Three-Day Protest

Cambodia's opposition has begun three days of mass demonstrations in the capital to call for the government to allow an independent probe into alleged election fraud.

Thousands gathered early Wednesday in Phnom Penh's Freedom Park, where they were met by thousands of riot police. Many Cambodians fear a repeat of last month's opposition protests during which one protester was killed and several wounded following clashes with police.

The Cambodian National Rescue Party, which organized the protests, marched Wednesday to a United Nations office in the capital to deliver a petition calling for international intervention to end the standoff over the July vote. They will also march to several foreign embassies.

Cambodian authorities granted last-minute approval for the CNRP to deliver the petition, but stipulated that only 1,000 people be allowed to join the march. Some opposition officials have told local media the march will exceed that figure.

The party expects as many as 50,000 people to attend the three-day protest, which coincides with the anniversary of the 1991 signing of the Paris Peace Agreements that ended decades of conflict in the Southeast Asian country.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has also threatened to hold a general strike if the government does not give in to his demands for an independent investigation.

Although official results show the CNRP made substantial gains in the election, opposition lawmakers have refused to take their seats in parliament, claiming the ruling Cambodian People's Party committed voter fraud.

Prime Minister Hun Sen says the vote was free and fair, arguing the results were upheld by Cambodia's National Election Commission and Constitutional Court.

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday urged foreign governments, which help fund Cambodia's aid-reliant government, to put more pressure on Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow for an election probe.

The New York-based group said many international observers have concluded the election process was "severely marred by significant structural flaws and irregularities," including voter fraud, media bias, and partisanship by state security forces.

The statement also slammed the prime ministers of France, Australia and Japan for sending congratulatory letters following the election to Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the country since 1985.

Human Rights Watch's Asia director, Brad Adams, said "premature congratulations from elected leaders undermine the hopes of millions of Cambodians who rely on the international community to back their demands for free and fair elections."

(This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.)

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