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Three dead as Cambodian police open fire on protesters

Phnom Penh (AFP) - Cambodian police opened fire on protesting garment workers Friday, leaving at least three people dead, as the kingdom's strongman premier faced growing public anger on the streets of the capital.

Workers armed with sticks, rocks and Molotov cocktails clashed with rifle-wielding police in the Veng Sreng factory district of Phnom Penh, according to an AFP photographer.

Police fired warning shots in the air and then fired at the protesters, the photographer saw.

"Three people died and two were injured," Phnom Penh deputy police commissioner Chuon Narin told AFP.

One blood-soaked worker was seen lying on the ground while another was rushed away by motorcycle after what was the latest in a series of violent clashes between security forces and textile workers demanding higher wages.

Prime Minister Hun Sen faces a growing challenge to his nearly three-decade rule from protesting garment workers and opposition supporters demanding that he step down and call a new election because of alleged vote fraud.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy denounced the crackdown.

"It's an unacceptable attempt to break not only a worker strike but the whole worker movement as well as the democratic movement which is developing in Cambodia following the July elections," he told AFP.

Rights activist Chan Soveth of local rights group Adhoc, who was at the site, said as many as 10 strikers were badly injured.

Security forces "used rifles and other things to crack down on the strikers," he said. "They beat them on their heads."

Military police spokesman Kheng Tito said the crackdown came after nine policemen were injured by stones and slingshots.

He said two protesters were arrested.

"We were afraid about the security so we had to crack down on them," said Kheng Tito.

"If we allow them to continue the strike it will become anarchy."

Disputes over wages and safety conditions are common in Cambodia's multi-billion dollar garment industry which supplies brands like Gap, Nike and H&M.

The sector employs about 650,000 people and is a key source of foreign income for the impoverished country.

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Cambodian protesters (front) clash with military police (back) during a garment workers protest to demand higher wages in front of a factory in Phnom Penh on January 3.

(AFP)

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