Thousands attend funeral of murdered Cambodia govt critic Kem Ley

People attend the funeral procession of Cambodian independent political analyst Kem Ley in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on July 24.
People attend the funeral procession of Cambodian independent political analyst Kem Ley in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on July 24. PHOTO: EPA

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Tens of thousands of Cambodians poured onto the streets of Phnom Penh Sunday (July 24) for the funeral procession of a prominent political analyst murdered in a brazen daylight shooting that shocked the Southeast Asian nation.

Kem Ley, a popular pro-democracy voice and grassroots rights activist, was shot dead two Sundays ago while drinking coffee outside a petrol station in Phnom Penh, the capital.

The murder sent jitters across a country already brimming with political tension as premier Hun Sen faces accusations of clamping down on critics of his 31-year rule.

On Sunday a massive crowd of mourners, many carrying portraits of Kem Ley, trailed for kilometres behind Buddhist monks and a motorcade carrying the 46-year-old's body in a transparent casket.

Tens of thousands of others lined the streets to watch the procession, which will end at the activist's home village some 70 kilometres south of the capital.

"He was a mirror of society, a hero. His murder is a huge loss to democracy," Hul Chan, 39, told AFP while he was walking with the peaceful procession.

Kem Ley, a popular radio commentator, was a regular critic of Hun Sen as well as the political opposition. He called for a new era of clean politics in Cambodia - one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

He was also a major advocate for land and labour rights, travelling across the impoverished country to speak directly with villagers.

Oueth Ang, a former soldier and Buddhist monk, has been charged with the murder and is facing trial in a Cambodian court.

The 43-year-old, who first identified himself with an alias that translates as "Meet to Kill", claimed he shot Kem Ley over an outstanding debt.

But doubts about the motive persist in a country where the rule of law is weak and critics of the elite are easily silenced.

Shortly before his death Kem Ley gave a lengthy radio interview welcoming a report that detailed wealth amassed by Hun Sen and his family.

Hun Sen's government stands accused of cracking down on critics and political rivals ahead of 2018 elections, using the courts to strongarm opponents.

He has ordered an investigation into Kem Key's murder and urged people not to turn the case into a "political act".