Thousands of Cambodian garment workers on Thursday joined anti-government protests demanding that Prime Minister Hun Sen step down and call a new election.
The opposition had urged the textile industry’s vast workforce to join its daily rallies in the capital against Hun Sen, and the workers’ participation is a boost to efforts to challenge the long-ruling strongman.
Hun Sen last week rejected opposition calls for him to step down and call a new vote to settle allegations of vote-rigging in July elections.
The protests Thursday coincided with a strike by about 300,000 garment workers for higher pay.
The government announced earlier this week that the monthly minimum wage for garment workers would be increased from $80 to $95 starting from April next year.
The workers are demanding a minimum wage of $160 per month in 2014.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, said the strike had forced many factories to stop work.
“We cannot accept the increase. It is so little. The workers will continue with the strike if there is no resolution,” he told AFP.
Disputes over wages and safety conditions in Cambodia’s lucrative garment industry are frequent. The multi-billion dollar industry employs about 650,000 people and is a key source of foreign income for the impoverished country.
The opposition party has boycotted parliament since the election.
Parliament in late September approved a new five-year term for Hun Sen, despite the absence of opposition MPs, in a move decried by the opposition as a “constitutional coup”.
Hun Sen — a 61-year-old former Khmer Rouge cadre who defected and oversaw Cambodia’s rise from the ashes of war — has ruled for 28 years, and has vowed to continue until he is 74.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]