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Cambodian Lawmakers Sworn In Amid Protests - 2003-10-04

King Norodom Sihanouk and the top two monks from Cambodia's two largest Buddhist sects presided over a swearing-in ceremony for all 123 lawmakers in the country's new Parliament Saturday. The three major parties represented remain deadlocked over forming a government.

The ceremony at the Royal Palace should have been held during Parliament's inaugural session last week, but the two main opposition parties boycotted the session, leaving only the 73 parliamentarians from the ruling Cambodian People's Party, the CPP, in attendance.

Hundreds of police, military police and special forces units guarded the Royal Palace during Saturday's ceremony, which was broadcast live on state television. The lawmakers, who braved monsoon rains and flooded streets to take their oaths, were dressed in traditional ceremonial attire.

Prime Minster Hun Sen and the three top leaders of the CPP sat together in the front row, next to the president of the royalist Funcinpec Party, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and Sam Rainsy, leader of the party that bears his name.

Observers said the three leaders had not been seen together in such close quarters since the last swearing-in ceremony in 1998.

Leaders from Funcinpec and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party - which won 26 and 24 assembly seats respectively in the July 27 national election - boycotted last weekend's session to protest the government's alleged failure to address election abuses.

The three parties have been in a stalemate over forming a new government after the election, with the CPP failing to win the two-thirds majority required to rule the government in its own right, and failing to lure Funcinpec into another two-party coalition.

Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsey party joined forces after the election to form the Alliance of Democrats and to demand the CPP replace Hun Sen as prime minister and allow a tripartite coalition government. The CPP and its top leaders have called those demands "unreasonable."

Many observers hoped the swearing-in ceremony would defuse the recent political tension, and bring the parties together into formal talks.

The monarch has said he would not answer calls by the Alliance of Democrats to mediate a resolution to the deadlock, unless a joint letter is presented to him. The CPP has refused to negotiate, saying the alliance has already "closed the door" by setting such high demands.