Factory managers expressed regret and dismissed a Chinese supervisor yesterday after angry Cambodian garment factory workers demanded that she be punished for tearing up a poster of their late former king.
Police, who were called in to prevent a riot, escorted Wang Zia Cha, manager of the Top World factory, to a make-shift shrine honouring Norodom Sihanouk, where she lit incense and knelt down as employees looked on.
"The workers were very angry with her. If we hadn't stepped in on time, the situation could have turned serious," said Phnom Penh police chief Chuon Sovann.
Wang will remain in detention as authorities investigate whether she broke the law.
The incident happened after some employees at the factory stopped work to gather around two pictures of Sihanouk.
"When the Chinese lady saw the pictures, she grabbed them … she tried to tear the photos, but she was unable to and she used scissors to cut them," factory employee Sroy Phalla, 42, said.
Sihanouk, who led Cambodia through a half-century of peace and war, died on October 15 in Beijing. His body was returned last Wednesday to Cambodia, where a week of official mourning was declared.
Top World said staff had been given the day off after the "regretful" incident and Wang had been removed from her role as chief of a production unit. More than 1,000 workers later marched to the Royal Palace.
One worker, So Sareth, said she did not understand why the Chinese supervisor acted so disrespectfully. "Today this woman dares to tear up the picture of our king, next time she will commit a crime against us workers if she is not punished now."
The workers travelled by foot and truck to the palace. When they arrived, they all knelt before a giant picture of the late king on the palace wall, to which they expressed regret for the portrait being destroyed.
A food vendor who sells meals in front of the factories joined the protest. "She had insulted our king. Her act cannot be tolerated," Sokun Theara said.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse