Deriding health rumor, Cambodian leader says opposition should fear military if he were to die


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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia's prime minister on Tuesday derided rumors he had suffered a stroke, warning that if he were to die prematurely the country would spin out of control and the opposition could expect trouble from the armed forces.

Prime Minister Hun Sen spoke during a visit with disabled people in southern Cambodia. He scotched the rumors on Monday by meeting with former Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo.

Reacting to reports that the opposition had believed the rumor, he said wishing for the death of other people was inhuman.

"In case I had suffered a massive stroke as was reported, you please should pack up your things and flee. I am speaking honestly, because the ability to command all the armed forces belongs to only one person," he said, clearly referring to himself. He advised his critics not to wish for his death, and if he should fall victim to such a thing as a stroke, they better be prepared because anything could happen to them.

Hun Sen's comments supported the conventional wisdom in that his three decades in charge, he has created a system of what amounts to personalized, one-man rule within a democratic framework.

Hun Sen also warned the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party that if it did not end its boycott of the National Assembly, the ruling Cambodian People's Party would act alone until the assembly completes its term. The opposition claims it was cheated in last year's general election, and has made several demands, including early polls and electoral reforms.

In negotiations, Hun Sen has said he is willing to see the next election held five months ahead of schedule, in February 2018, but if the boycott isn't ended, it will be held on schedule in July 2018. He also indicated that reform of the state election commission would depend on the opposition joining parliament.

Hun Sen said he would allow the opposition party to establish its own television station, something it has long sought. All the stations currently operating are directly or indirectly controlled by the government or ruling party. Hun Sen said the station would not be allowed to use the opposition party's logo, and had to take its license in the name of a private company.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he welcomed the move and his party will prepare the necessary documents for applying for the license. He called for complete freedom for the media, not only for his party.

"In every democratic country, there is no single party fully authorized to control all existing television channels. So what we have heard this morning (from Hun Sen) is the first positive step," he said in a telephone interview.

The two opposing parties have met several times to negotiate an end to their deadlock, and have said they were close but still failed to reach any concrete agreement, especially on election reform, the timing of the next election and power sharing in the National Assembly.

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