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Cambodian Leader Begins New Term Despite Opposition Boycott

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, left, sits inside the session hall of the National Assembly with lawmakers from his Cambodian People's Party, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sept. 24, 2013.
Cambodian leader Hun Sen has begun another five-year term as prime minister despite an opposition boycott of parliament.

The long-time leader and his cabinet were sworn in Tuesday by King Sihamoni at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. The move follow's Monday's controversial opening of the legislature, which the opposition says was illegal because there were not enough members present as mandated by law.

Speaking to a half-empty assembly Tuesday, Hun Sen dismissed allegations of electoral fraud and said he was open to continued negotiations with the opposition, but only if they first take their seats in parliament.

"The Royal Palace doors are always open, waiting for those who wish to get sworn in, one or two or all 55 of them, but not 63," the premier said.

He was referencing the number of opposition seats won in official results, versus the number opposition officials estimate they won.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Tuesday called the opening of parliament a "constitutional coup." He said he would announce his party's next steps on Wednesday.

But Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, promised more protests and repeated the opposition's position that opening the parliament without the required number of members is illegal.

"We're preparing for protests in Phnom Penh and the provinces and collecting people's thumbprints to petition the king to express our dissatisfaction with this illegal act," he said. "The act that has caused national break-up and disunity."

The opposition won 55 seats in the July 28 elections, but says it was denied a victory due to widespread vote rigging.

Protests against the election results turned violent this month when a demonstrator was shot and killed during a clash with security forces.

Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy held talks last week in an effort to end the crisis, but the prime minister rejected the opposition leader's demand for an independent probe into the election.

Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia since 1985.

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