Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who had rallied in Cambodia's capital yesterday to push for an independent investigation into a July election they say was fixed to favour the ruling party.
A human rights worker said he saw one protester shot dead and two others sustain bullet wounds to the legs as police moved in to arrest and disperse demonstrators. Police could not confirm the witness account.
Protesters threw rocks at police who fired at least 10 tear gas canisters near the Royal Palace, where witnesses said supporters of Cambodia's main opposition party had tried to remove razor wire barricades.
The clash came amid tension heightened by the discovery of a bomb and some grenades around the city on Friday and risk escalating a six-week stand-off that has become one of the biggest tests of Prime Minister Hun Sen's three decades in power.
His Cambodian People's Party won the election with 68 seats to the 55 of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), a greatly reduced majority that signals dissatisfaction with his rule despite rapid economic growth in a country that for decades was seen as a failed state.
But the CNRP and its supporters insist they won the July 28 vote and yesterday they held their second mass rally in eight days to demand an independent investigation into their complaints of vote fraud. The government has refused to allow that.
"Our vote is our life," CNRP's deputy president, Kem Sokha, told about 20,000 supporters at Freedom Park, where the protest took place.
"They stole our votes - it's like stealing our lives."
Police threatened legal action and put razor-wire fences and fire trucks across several roads in the capital in a failed attempt to stop demonstrators from marching to the rally.
Talks between the two parties have gone nowhere and a meeting on Saturday at the Royal Palace between King Norodom Sihamoni, Hun Sen and CNRP leader Sam Rainsy resulted in no breakthrough. The CNRP and CPP were scheduled to resume talks today even though the opposition has vowed to hold protests both today and tomorrow.
The CNRP is refusing to give up until the government agrees to let independent outsiders conduct an investigation.
The party plans to try to paralyse the legislature by boycotting parliament's first session on September 23, arguing it was cheated out of 2.3 million votes to keep Hun Sen and his party in office for another five years.
The government and the National Election Commission are both standing by the official result and the Constitutional Council ruled all allegations had been investigated already.