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3 die in Cambodian protests

Cambodian military police opened fire on stone-throwing garment factory workers.

Cambodian military police opened fire on stone-throwing garment factory workers. Picture: AFP

PHNOM PENH - Cambodian military police opened fire with assault rifles on Friday to quell a protest by stone-throwing garment factory workers demanding higher pay, killing at least three people.

Chaos during nationwide strikes erupted for a second day as security forces were deployed to break up the demonstration by thousands of workers, who refused to move and threw bottles, stones and petrol bombs outside a factory in Phnom Penh.

The clash represents an escalation of a political crisis in Cambodia, where striking workers and anti-government protesters have come together in a loose movement led by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

Unions representing disgruntled garment workers have joined opposition supporters protesting against the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen to demand a re-run of an election in July that the opposition says was rigged.

Military police confronting the protesters fired live ammunition, Reuters journalists said, and bullet casings were later seen scattered across the ground at the scene.

Two witnesses said they had seen at least three dead bodies during the chaos.

Military police spokesman Kheng Tito, however, said only one protester was killed.

"We are sorry we heard one was killed and some were injured," he said. "But we were just following our duty, role and tasks. Now, we are securing the situation."

The CNRP, led by former finance minister Sam Rainsy, has courted some 350,000 garment workers from nearly 500 factories across the country by promising to nearly double the monthly minimum wage to $160 if it wins a re-run of the July election, which Hun Sen is refusing to hold.

Garment manufacturing is Cambodia's biggest foreign currency earner, a major employer and a vital source of income for many rural families who complain they can barely survive on the wages that are lower than neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam.

Big brands like Gap Adidas, Nike and Puma outsource footwear and apparel to Cambodian factories, in part due to the cheaper labour costs than China.

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