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Cambodia government makes legal move against opposition ahead of 2018 poll


File photo from 2013 of former party leaders of Cambodia National Rescue Party, Kem Sokha, second right, and Sam Rainsy (AP)

File photo from 2013 of former party leaders of Cambodia National Rescue Party, Kem Sokha, second right, and Sam Rainsy (AP)

File photo from 2013 of former party leaders of Cambodia National Rescue Party, Kem Sokha, second right, and Sam Rainsy (AP)

Cambodia's government has taken the initial legal steps in a bid to dissolve the country's major opposition party.

Friday's move is the latest in a series of measures to gain an advantage ahead of next year's general election.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the ministry filed a case with the Supreme Court asking for the Cambodia National Rescue Party to be dissolved on the ground that it was involved in a plot to topple the government.

The CNRP is the only party aside from the ruling Cambodian People's Party with representatives in parliament, and no third party comes even close in terms of popularity and support.

The opposition posed an unexpectedly strong challenge in 2013's general election and the government has since has taken steps to tighten its grip on power.

Mr Khieu Sopheak said the government had received "21 pieces of concrete evidence to prove that the opposition party has intentionally sought to topple the government through a 'colour revolution'."

CNRP leader Kem Sokha was charged last month with treason for allegedly working with the United States to oust prime minister Hun Sen, who has held power for more than three decades, in a "colour revolution", a term used to describe movements to replace governments in a number of countries.

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The opposition party has denied the treason allegation, saying the charge is politically motivated.

Many senior CNRP leaders have since fled the country, fearing arrest.

If the Supreme Court finds the opposition party guilty of violating the political party law, not only would it be dissolved, but its leaders would be banned from involvement in politics for five years.

The ministry acted after it received complaints from two parties with no politicians in parliament that are generally believed to have been acting at the government's behest.

The arrest of Mr Kem Sokha has sharply escalated political tensions and raised questions over whether the upcoming elections could be free and fair.

The charge against Mr Kem Sokha was based on videos from several years ago that showed him at a seminar where he spoke about receiving advice from US pro-democracy groups.

He could face up to 30 years in prison.

Kem Sokha had been expected to lead the CNRP in next year's election in a strong challenge against the ruling party.

In nationwide local elections in June, Mr Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party won most constituencies but received a weak majority of the popular vote, while the opposition party made gains.

Mr Hun Sen and his party have in the past month accelerated the use of legal and administrative measures to undermine critics and political foes.

An English-language newspaper, The Cambodia Daily, was shut down after being accused of not paying a huge tax bill, an assessment it strongly disputed.

More than a dozen radio stations that broadcast dissident voices or used programming from US government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Asia were forced to stop broadcasting for alleged breach of regulations.


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