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Cambodian unionists mark murder of prominent labour leader

Cambodian trade unionists on Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of the death of a prominent labour leader, defying a government ban on rallies following a deadly crackdown on garment workers earlier this month.

PHNOM PENH: Cambodian trade unionists on Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of the death of a prominent labour leader, defying a government ban on rallies following a deadly crackdown on garment workers earlier this month.

Chea Vichea, a vocal critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen's government, was gunned down in 2004 in broad daylight at a newsstand in the capital Phnom Penh -- a killing decried by activists as an attempt to silence his union.

Campaigners say his murder is a symbol of the kingdom's culture of impunity for powerful interest groups determined to muzzle dissent.

More than 100 unionists and workers marched, many holding lotus flowers, to a park where a statue of Chea Vichea stands just metres away from the spot where he was killed.

Despite the government ban, the march was not disturbed by authorities.

"We want to send a message finally to the Cambodian government to stop spilling the blood of the people, including unionists," Chea Mony, the victim's brother and president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTU), said after a brief ceremony.

He also called on authorities to bring Chea Vichea's killers to justice.

Chea Vichea founded the FTU along with opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who joined Wednesday's march.

"Now Cambodian soil is stained with blood of workers, those who protect workers and unionists," Sam Rainsy said. "It is cruel and totally unjust."

Earlier this month police opened fire on striking garment factory employees demanding a minimum wage of $160 a month for their work in an industry which supplies brands including Gap, Nike and H&M, killing at least four civilians.

Union members are planning a large demonstration on Sunday to demand the release of 23 people arrested during the crackdown.

On Tuesday, police broke up a rally in the capital and briefly detained 11 activists who were calling for international assistance to secure the release of protesters.

Hun Sen faces mounting criticism by rights groups of his government's suppression of street protests seeking to challenge his nearly three-decade rule following alleged vote-rigging in elections last July.

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