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Cambodia opposition keeps up pressure with rally

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SOPHENG CHEANG and JUSTINE DRENNAN | September 14, 2013 11:35 PM EST | AP

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia's main opposition party launched another mass demonstration in the capital on Sunday, stepping up its effort to pressure Prime Minister Hun Sen to resolve the country's post-election deadlock.

The protest in Phnom Penh comes despite the start of talks between the two sides aimed at ending a dispute over July elections, which the opposition says were marred by serious irregularities.

Cambodia's king brought Hun Sen face to face with opposition leader Sam Rainsy for the first time in years Saturday, and urged the two rivals to resolve their conflict peacefully for the sake of national stability. No agreement was reached, but the two are expected to meet again Monday.

Opposition leaders are hoping 20,000 people will turn out for the demonstration Sunday, which political analysts say is mostly aimed at appeasing angry supporters and strengthening the opposition's hand in negotiations with the ruling party.

The rally is supposed to last three days, with thousands camping out overnight. But the plan defies the government's request that it be limited to 10,000 people and end by nightfall.

Fears of violence have risen amid a visible increase of military forces in the capital since the election and the discovery Friday of explosives planted by unknown persons near the public park where the demonstration is to take place.

Although Sunday's rally is aimed at pushing for an independent investigation into the results of the July ballot, the government has no legal means of meeting the request now that the results have been ratified.

Official results announced last weekend gave Hun Sen's party 68 seats in the National Assembly and Sam Rainsy's party 55 – a dramatic opposition increase from the 29 seats it won in the previous election.

The opposition says it would have won had the ballot been fair. The government has rejected the demands.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said talks between the rivals this week could have focused on allotting the opposition several parliamentary leadership positions, reforming the electoral commission and allowing Sam Rainsy to take a seat in parliament.

Just before the disputed vote, King Norodom Sihamoni pardoned the then self-exiled Sam Rainsy at the request of Hun Sen – likely under international pressure. He returned to Cambodia before the election, but too late to register as a candidate himself.