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Cambodian rivals begin talks to end deadlock

Cambodia's strongman premier and his main political rival met on Tuesday in search of a breakthrough in a year-long crisis fanned by the recent arrest of eight opposition politicians for insurrection.

PHNOM PENH: Cambodia's strongman premier and his main political rival met on Tuesday in search of a breakthrough in a year-long crisis fanned by the recent arrest of eight opposition politicians for insurrection.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held power for nearly three decades, shook hands with opposition leader Sam Rainsy as their first face-to-face talks since last September got under way. In a message posted on his Facebook page earlier, Rainsy described the meeting as "final talks".

His Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has boycotted parliament since elections last July, accusing Hun Sen's ruling party of stealing victory with widespread vote-rigging.

Analysts say Rainsy's return to the negotiating table may have been spurred by last week's arrest of the eight CNRP politicians over a protest in the capital which saw clashes between demonstrators and security forces.

Rights groups have denounced the charges against the politicians, who could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted. The CNRP wants sweeping electoral reform before new polls are held. It has previously rejected Hun Sen's offer to stage fresh elections in February 2018.

"The leaders will discuss issues including the arrest of the opposition politicians, reform of the election body and the (date of) a new general election," a CNRP official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

Hun Sen, 61, is regularly criticised by campaigners for ignoring human rights and stamping out dissent. A crackdown on striking garment workers in January left four people dead.

Experts said last year's poll loss dealt a major blow to the CNRP which was adamant it had won the election. However, it also represented a significant parliamentary gain on its performance at the previous vote.

Opposition supporters have staged several major demonstrations against Hun Sen's government.

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