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Friday, June 20, 2008

Thai protestors storm Government House

Thousands of anti-government protestors surrounded the Thai cabinet's headquarters Friday, demanding the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his ministers.

The demonstrators of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which led similar mass protests against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006, broke through police blockades to force their way into Government House which they had surrounded Friday afternoon.

'PAD protestors have no weapons, so if there is any shooting, it is not by us,' PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang said, urging the demonstrators not to attack police while breaking through their barricades.

The protesters, estimated at 5,000 strong, shouted, 'Put Thaksin in prison,' as they took their places outside Government House, which was closed Friday.

The PAD has vowed to camp outside Thailand's seat of government until Samak and his cabinet resign, accusing them of mishandling the economy and diplomacy, and of acting as 'nominees' for Thaksin and his cronies, who were barred from power by a Constitutional Tribunal ruling last year.

A similar siege on Government House in 2006 when Thaksin was prime minister ended with tanks rolling on the streets of Bangkok. The military staged a coup against Thaksin Sep 19, 2006, charging him with corruption, undermining the monarchy and dividing the nation.

After 15 months under a military-appointed government, Thailand held a general election Dec 23, 2007 that was won by the People Power Party (PPP), that promised a return to Thaksin's populist policies. PPP leader Samak, a right-wing politician, was chosen to head the party because of his close ties with Thaksin.

'We want Samak and his cabinet to get out,' said Janikha Korkhalong, 45, one of the protestors. 'Just what this government has done on the Phra Viharn issue is enough reason for them to go.'

The Thai government this week backed a Cambodian proposal to list the Preah Vihear Hindu temple, the subject of a bitter ownership dispute more than 40 years ago, as a Unesco World Heritage Site next month.

The decision has irked many in Thailand who still believe the ancient Khmer border temple - called Phra Viharn by Thais - belongs to their country although the International Court of Justice in The Hague passed it to Cambodia in 1962.

There is a widespread belief that the cabinet approved the Cambodian proposal as part of a Thaksin business deal. Thaksin Wednesday announced plans to invest in a hotel-casino project on Cambodia's Koh Kong island.
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Cambodia destroys 30 tonnes of safrole-rich oil, key ingredient of Ecstasy

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodian authorities working with Australian police have destroyed an enormous stockpile of safrole-rich oil, a key ingredient used in producing the synthetic drug Ecstasy.

Officials say the 30 tonnes of oil could have produced 245 million tablets of the drug with a potential street value of $7.3 billion.

The oil - extracted from the roots of the sassafras tree - was burned over a three-day period that began on Wednesday.

Lt.-Gen. Lour Ramin of the Cambodia police says members of the Australian Federal Police oversaw the burning of the oil in a remote village in Cambodia's Pursat province, about 160 kilometres northwest of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

Australian officials say Cambodian authorities have been working since 2002 to stem distillation of the oil.

In addition to cracking down on the drug trade, they are trying to preserve the sassafras tree, a rare species that grows mainly in Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains. Officials say that in order to distill oil from the roots, the entire tree is cut down.

Philip Hunter, an official from Australian Federal Police, said the destruction of the oil "was a significant blow to the trade of illicit drugs in the region."

"These seizures demonstrate that Cambodia faces the challenges of suppressing drug production for regional export, as well as challenges faced as a transit centre for regional and international drug market,"

At the request of the Cambodian government, an Australian police team of four technicians and two forensic chemists travelled to Pursat province this week to help destroy the oil.
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EU to deploy election observation mission in Cambodia

BRUSSELS, (Xinhua) -- The European Commission will deploy an independent election observation mission for Cambodia's National Assembly elections scheduled on July 27 2008, Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner said on Thursday.

The EU Election Observation Mission (EOM), with a total of 113 short and long term observers, will monitor Cambodia's fourth parliamentary elections since the signing of the Paris Peace Accord in October 1991.

The mission will be led by Martin Callanan, member of the European Parliament.

"Over the last decade Cambodia has taken many important steps towards democracy and in particular in the field of human rights," said Ferrero-Waldner.

She said the EU "has been and will remain actively engaged in supporting Cambodia in a wide array of areas including education, judicial reform, fighting corruption and increasing transparency within the government."

"Because of the importance the EU attaches to these elections, I have decided to deploy an EU EOM to support and undertake a comprehensive assessment of the entire election process," she said.
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Cambodia Using `Subtle' Intimidation, Sam Rainsy Says

By Daniel Ten Kate

June 20 (Bloomberg) -- Cambodia's ruling party is using ``subtle'' measures to intimidate voters before next month's general elections rather than outright violence as in the past, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said.

``Even though there is less violence, less deaths, the ruling party is using more subtle means to achieve the same goals,'' he said by phone from the capital, Phnom Penh. Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith didn't answer repeated calls for comment.

Sam Rainsy, who leads a party named after him, may see parliament lift his immunity so he can face defamation charges for accusing Foreign Minister Hor Namhong of working as a prison official during the rule of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979.

Cambodia's economic growth over the past four years, including a 9.6 percent expansion in 2007, has bolstered Prime Minister Hun Sen, who last week predicted victory for his ruling Cambodian People's Party in the July 27 election. International human rights groups have accused the CPP of using the justice system to intimidate journalists and opposition members in the run-up to the vote.

The ruling party has also linked Sam Rainsy to the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, a U.S.-based dissident group that made a failed coup attempt in 2000.

``By making accusations against me, they want to create a general panic among my supporters or potential supporters so they are afraid to vote for me,'' said Sam Rainsy, 59.

Assembly Meeting

The opposition leader probably won't be stripped of his immunity and arrested before the election because parliament isn't in session and may not meet again before the ballot, said Hang Chhaya, director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy in Phnom Penh.

``We can say with a sigh of relief that the democratic climate has changed and improved,'' Hang Chhaya said. ``Political violence is very minimal.''

Dam Sith, a candidate of the Sam Rainsy Party and editor of the Khmer Conscience newspaper, was released on bail June 15 after Hun Sen, 56, wrote a letter to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court calling for his release. He was jailed for printing Sam Rainsy's comments about Hor Namhong.

``I proposed to the authorities that I was willing to go to jail if they free the journalist,'' Sam Rainsy said, referring to Dam Sith. ``If they want to arrest me I am not complaining.''

Sam Rainsy's party won 24 of 123 seats in the previous election five years ago. He spent most of 2005 in exile in France and was sentenced to jail for 18 months in absentia for defaming Hun Sen.

Victory Forecast

The CPP will probably win at least 81 seats, up from 73, and receive 73 percent of the vote versus 64 percent in the 2003 election, Hun Sen told the Mekong Times, a Phnom Penh-based English-language daily newspaper, earlier this month.

About 10 Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers defected earlier this year to join Hun Sen's CPP. Sam Rainsy said it was ``normal'' to lose members of parliament before an election.

``It's common for the ruling party to try to lure and to buy opposition lawmakers,'' said Sam Rainsy, who characterized his chances against the CPP as ``David versus Goliath.''

``The CPP uses both the carrot and the stick to win,'' he said. ``We'll judge our popularity by the actual results on election day.''

Ngor Sovann, a former Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker who left the party to join the CPP, said members of parliament who switched sides lost faith in Sam Rainsy as a leader.

``The Sam Rainsy Party cannot win,'' he said in a phone interview. ``Many of us lost confidence in Sam Rainsy because of injustice and cronyism within the party.''

Economy Grows

Cambodia's economy grew by at least 10 percent between 2003 and 2006, according to data compiled by the World Bank.

Hun Sen wants to develop oil and mineral resources to attract international investment and reduce Cambodia's dependence on clothing exports and tourism for growth. About a third of the country's 14 million people live on less than 50 cents a day and 90 percent live in rural areas.

Cambodia has become a more vibrant democracy in the past five years due largely to advances in technology rather than through government changes, Sam Rainsy said.

``The trends are in favor of democracy because people are more educated with the improvement in communication systems and mobile phones,'' he said. ``People are more aware, less afraid and more critical.''

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