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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cambodia bill would ban protests of more than 200

Cambodia's parliament on Wednesday approved a bill banning demonstrations of more than 200 people, raising opposition concerns that it would further limit freedom of speech in the Southeast Asian nation.

The bill also would require protesters to seek permission five days ahead of a planned rally. The law will take effect if formally passed by the Senate and endorsed by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Cheam Yeap, a lawmaker from the ruling Cambodian People's Party, said the law would help ensure public order and maintain national security.

Lawmakers from the country's main opposition party, the Sam Rainsy Party, said it would stifle free speech.

"This is definitely a setback for Cambodia's democracy," party president Sam Rainsy said.

No opposition lawmakers voted for the bill, which was passed by 76 members of the ruling party out of 101 lawmakers in attendance in the lower house of parliament.

Prime Minister Hun Sen's government has often been accused by rights groups and opponents of curtailing Cambodians' rights to peaceful protests.

Several journalists, human rights activists, opposition lawmakers and other government critics have been convicted or sentenced to jail this year and last year after being found guilty of defaming Hun Sen and his allies.

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