PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Opposition demonstrators disarmed Cambodian security forces and beat them with batons and flag poles in the capital on Tuesday, and officials said at least 40 people were injured, mostly security forces.
Police arrested three lawmakers from the political party that led the protest to demand that Phnom Penh's Freedom Park be reopened to the public. Authorities banned public demonstrations and closed the park in January after a spasm of political violence related to last year's general election.
About 200 protesters marched to the park and attached a large orange banner that read "Free the Freedom Park" to the surrounding razor wire barricade.
As armed police watched from inside the park, several dozen civilian security auxiliaries arrived with batons and homemade weapons and began pulling down the barricade, while attempting to disperse the rally, said Om Sam Ath from the human rights group Licadho. The security forces are often employed by the government to break up protests.
Om Sam Ath said security forces began beating protesters with batons but several protesters, many of whom were waving the national flag, fought back with their flag poles or batons they grabbed from the guards.
Police fired smoke bombs from inside the park to disperse protesters, he said, adding that at least four protesters were injured.
City Hall deputy governor Khun Sreng said that 37 of the security auxiliaries were injured.
The rally was led by Mu Sochau, a prominent opposition leader, and two other opposition members, Men Thavrin and Keo Phirum.
All three were arrested after the clashes, said Chuon Narin, deputy chief of Phnom Penh Municipal Police.
"Police did not arrest opposition lawmakers, we detained three anarchist demonstration leaders who led a violent protest," he said. It was not immediately clear when they would be released.
The opposition claim that last year's general election was rigged and the Cambodia National Rescue Party robbed of victory. Its lawmakers have boycotted their seats in the National Assembly.
Hun Sen has been in power for almost three decades, and while Cambodia is formally democratic, his government is authoritarian and known for intimidating opponents.