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Cambodia's parliament approves NGO bill amid opposition boycott, protests

PHNOM PENH, July 13 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia's National Assembly adopted a controversial draft Law on Associations and Non- Governmental Organizations (NGOs) on Monday amid boycott of the opposition lawmakers and protests.

All 68 lawmakers from the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), including Prime Minister Hun Sen, unanimously passed the bill by raising hands, as the 55 lawmakers from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) boycotted the session.

It required a 50 percent plus one majority vote, or 62 votes only, to pass the draft law.

The CNRP said in a statement Sunday that its lawmakers' boycott was to urge the parliament to scrap the government-proposed draft bill, claiming, "The bill would put pressure and impose restrictions on the freedoms of associations and NGOs."

While the assembly was debating the bill, hundreds of human rights and NGO activists protested against the bill outside.

Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sar Kheng rejected the allegations that the law would impose restrictions on the freedom of associations and NGOs.

"We had spent 20 years to make this law, which aims to protect the rights and freedoms of those organizations and to enhance cooperation between the organizations and the government," he told reporters after the parliamentary session. "There's nothing perfect. It is their rights to make criticism."

Sar Kheng said that currently there are approximately 5,000 associations and NGOs operating in this Southeast Asian nation.

Lawmaker Ho Sry said the bill would encourage organizations to operate accountably and transparently.

"It will prevent anarchy, terrorism financing and money laundering," he said, adding, "We cannot let the associations and NGOs stay outside the law."

Prime Minister Hun Sen did not make any comments during the parliamentary session. Last month, he said the law targeted to fight against terrorism financing, money laundering and creation of illegal armed forces.

"Associations and NGOs should not worry about this law. It will protect you, support you, and open up to your activities," he said.

Under the law, associations and NGOs will be required to register their nationalities with the government in order to have legal standing and must file reports on their activities and finances each year to the government.

It will also allow the government to delete the name of any association or NGO, which has conducted any action that jeopardizes peace, stability and public order, or harms national security, unification, culture, traditions and custom.

The draft law will be sent to the Senate for a final review before being submitted to King Norodom Sihamoni for promulgation.

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