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Sunday, June 21, 1998 Published at 05:55 GMT 06:55 UK


World: Asia-Pacific

Cambodians march for free elections

Many refugees have been unable to enrol to vote

Around 2,000 people have been demonstrating in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, to press for free and fair elections.

The protestors marched through the city in defiance of a government ban. the gathering was organised by a leading opposition politician, Sam Rainsy, who has announced he is withdrawing his party from a poll scheduled for next month, saying the election process is a farce and the outcome a foregone conclusion.

Mr Rainsy said he would only rejoin the electoral process if tangible improvements took place over the next two weeks.

The BBC correspondent in Phnom Penh says security during the demonstration was visible but low key, and that fewer people took part than expected.

The protest came a day after the international community endorsed the Cambodian government's plans to hold the elections in July - despite expressing serious reservations over the political climate in the country.

Before the marchers took to the streets, cheered on by watching crowds, Mr Rainsy told his supporters that the people of Cambodia deserved to have democratic elections but were being denied this basic right.

He said: "Cambodia needs and Cambodia wants free and fair elections, and we are defending the right of the whole Cambodian people, regardless of political affiliation!"

Although the march was billed as a peaceful, apolitical demonstration, Mr Rainsy attacked what he termed the old regime, and said Cambodians needed a change of leadership.

Newspapers were handed out containing lists of hundreds of names of Vietnamese people who, Mr Rainsy said, had been allowed to illegally register as voters for the forthcoming election while tens of thousands of ordinary Cambodians had been denied this right.

Mr Rainsy's party, which bears his name, has alleged that its supporters - like those of many other opposition groups - have faced threats and political intimidation. It complains that it is being denied access to the electronic media, which are controlled by the Cambodian People's Party of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Our correspondent says the march is likely to have little impact given that there is now such a strong momentum for the polls to go ahead on schedule on July 26.



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