01/03/2014, 00.00
CAMBODIA
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Phnom Penh police fire on striking textile workers, three victims

Hundreds of workers protest for an increase in minimum wage. Police respond to a provocation by opening fire on the crowd . Several injured and several arrests. Human rights activists speak of the "unprecedented" use of force, a sign that the authorities want to crack down on "peaceful protests ."

Phnom Penh ( AsiaNews / Agencies) - The police in Phnom Penh have opened fire on hundreds of workers in the textile industry - protesting to demand an increase in minimum wages and better conditions of employment - killing at least three people . This morning, workers have erected makeshift barricades and defenses, blocking one of the main roads south of the capital.  The police reacted by firing on protesters and wounding several others. Chan Sovet , from the civic activist Adhoc group, said that security forces " used rifles and other weapons to suppress the demonstrations ," hitherto peaceful .

Choun Narin , chief of police in Phnom Penh , confirms the arrest of demonstrators , a group of workers charged with having hurled sticks , stones and paper bombs against officers, nine of whom were injured. Military sources report that the police reacted by opening fire on the crowd , after being attacked by demonstrators . Kheng Tito , police spokesman , said that " we were concerned about safety , so we had to take action [...] If we had allowed them to continue , anarchy would reign ."

Yesterday an armed soldiers intervened to quell the protest by a group of workers on strike at the outskirts of the capital , arresting a dozen people including five Buddhist monks. Witnesses reported unprecedented force being used during the arrests with security forces beating the workers and religious leaders. The use by the government unit 911 ( a special department ) , said a human rights activist , is "unprecedented and reveals the willingness of the authorities to crack down on those who , until now , were peacefully protesting ."

The five Buddhist monks were released in the late afternoon yesterday, after protesters blocked a main highway linking with the capital , calling loudly for their release .

In recent weeks, tens of thousands of workers , led by the country's two main unions , have blocked the access roads to the Ministry of Labour , announcing new demonstrations if their demands are not met . Unions , workers and the opposition are pushing for a doubling of the minimum wage from the current 80 dollars a month , 160 . However, so far they have managed to achieve an increase of 15 dollars per month ( the government offered a maximum of 100) , as of April 2014.

Fearing further violence, the Association of Textile entrepreneurs urged companies to stop cars while unions and the government have announced a series of meetings scheduled in the late afternoon, in an attempt to stem the protest. Strikes threaten to paralyze the manufacturing industry of the country, one of the most vital and thriving in Cambodia with 650 thousand employees and a multi - billionaire turnover, related to the production of garments for major Western brands .

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