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US calls on Cambodia to 'undo' opposition party ban

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has dominated Cambodia for more than three decades, has tightened his grip on the country after recent CNRP electoral gains shook his authority
NOEL CELIS (AFP)

The United States on Thursday urged Cambodia to overturn its ban on the country's main opposition, warning that the dissolution of the party cast grave doubt over the legitimacy of 2018 elections. 

Washington said the upcoming polls, which will now see strongman Hun Sen run almost unopposed to renew his three decade rule, would not be "legitimate, free, or fair" after Phnom Penh's Supreme Court delivered the crushing blow to the embattled Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). 

"We call on the Royal Government of Cambodia to undo its recent actions against the CNRP, release imprisoned CNRP leader Kem Sokha, and allow opposition parties, civil society, and the media to maintain their legitimate activities," the White House said in a statement.

In a sweeping decision on Thursday, the Cambodian court dissolved the CNRP and banned more than 100 of its politicians.

The judge said the party, by boycotting the trial, had effectively confessed to the government-levied accusation of conspiring with the United States and other foreign actors to plot a revolution -- allegations Washington dubbed "meritless and politicized." 

The White House warned the US would "terminate support" for Cambodia's National Election Committee to administer the 2018 vote, which Hun Sen said will be held as scheduled.

It added that the court ruling, as well as severe restrictions on civil society and the media in the country "have significantly set back Cambodia's democratic development and placed its economic growth and international standing at risk".

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