Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Brussels on October 19 to demand the European Union push for a return of democracy to Cambodia. Their rallying cries could be heard as Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen gathered with heads of state and business leaders from Asia and Europe for the Asia Europe Meeting in Brussels.

Hun Sen has tried to persuade leaders from the bloc to forgo threatened sanctions against his government following July 29 national elections widely regarded as rigged.

As reported by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), Cambodia’s Supreme Court ruled to dissolve the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in September for its role in an alleged plot to topple the government amid a months-long crackdown that also targeted NGOs and the independent media. This ensured that Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) emerged victorious from the July ballot.

The protesters in Brussels called on the EU to sanction Hun Sen’s government as part of a bid to pressure him to restore democracy to Cambodia.

Yos Hut, a monk protester, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the people of Cambodia are being held hostage by Hun Sen’s regime.

“There is no peace when people are being pressured and intimidated,” he said, adding that additional protests against Hun Sen are planned in Turkey and Switzerland, where the prime minister will meet with leaders.

Meanwhile, “scores” of Hun Sen supporters had also gathered in Brussels. And Hun Sen posted a message to his Facebook account thanking who he said were his supporters that came from as far away as Germany, Switzerland, England and France to welcome him in Brussels.

“This shows that Cambodians overseas support and respect the prime minister, who has led the country to its current prosperity,” he wrote.

“It also reflects the pride Cambodians have that their prime minister has joined an EU summit.”

According to AFP, Hun Sen has repeatedly stressed that his country does not need foreign governments to recognise the legitimacy of Cambodia’s elections, saying acceptance by Cambodians is sufficient.

He has also said that he will continue to welcome aid from China, which is poised to overtake the US as the world’s top foreign donor, and which is currently Cambodia’s largest international aid provider.