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‘Is Hun Sen under medical emergency?’: PM rebuts health rumours in self-referential speech

Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at an event at Olympic Stadium yesterday in Phnom Penh to celebrate the listing of Kampong Thom’s Sambor Prei Kuk as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at an event at Olympic Stadium yesterday in Phnom Penh to celebrate the listing of Kampong Thom’s Sambor Prei Kuk as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Hong Menea

‘Is Hun Sen under medical emergency?’: PM rebuts health rumours in self-referential speech

Prime Minister Hun Sen used a speech at a ceremony celebrating the recent conferment of World Heritage status for the Sambor Prei Kuk archaeological site yesterday to try to quell rumours about his health that have swirled in recent weeks.

The premier’s off-script comments – for which he actually apologised to his speechwriter at one point – were given at the Olympic Stadium, before an audience of thousands, and took on a slightly existential tone.

“Is Hun Sen under medical emergency in hospital in France? Or is this the Hun Sen who Singaporean medical doctors have no ability to treat and who is sent to Hong Kong? Is it the real Hun Sen, or not?” he said.

Dancers perform a traditional piece before a crowd of thousands yesterday at an event in Phnom Penh to celebrate the recent listing of Kampong Thom's Sambor Prei Kuk as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Dancers perform a traditional piece before a crowd of thousands yesterday at an event in Phnom Penh to celebrate the recent listing of Kampong Thom's Sambor Prei Kuk as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hong Menea

The remarks were Hun Sen’s latest attempt to debunk the rumours of ill-health, following a selfie blitz on social media over the weekend, which in turn after he also posted an album of photos showing him relaxing with his family in Singapore after a social media personality mused online about his absence from several consecutive Council of Ministers meetings.

Hun Sen was briefly hospitalised for exhaustion in Singapore in May.

However, the prime minister has proved sensitive to the question of succession. The strongman, who has been in power for 32 years, on Saturday slammed a proposal to give outgoing premiers legal immunity and status as national heroes as a “trick” and a “dirty request”.

He yesterday oscillated between discussing Cambodia’s political heritage and its cultural heritage in his speech, saying the listing of Sambor Prei Kuk on July 8 was a victory for his government and a credit to the late Sok An, his deputy prime minister and right-hand man.

“Some countries have requested [sites] to Unesco for 20 years or nearly 30 years, but they have not been approved by Unesco. But when Cambodia applied for one, we got one; apply for two, we get two; apply for three, we get three,” Hun Sen said. “We have gone from having zero tourists to 5 million tourists.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at an event at Olympic Stadium yesterday in Phnom Penh to celebrate the listing of Kampong Thom's Sambor Prei Kuk as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at an event at Olympic Stadium yesterday in Phnom Penh to celebrate the listing of Kampong Thom's Sambor Prei Kuk as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hong Menea

“Our effort has not ended today. We still have to enlist Koh Ker temple, Banteay Chhmar temple, Phnom Kulen temple and other areas,” he said. “If we are the next generation and cannot preserve [our culture], we are called an ungrateful child. We must be a grateful child.”

The premier said he “did not take this chance to attack anyone” but noted that one political party had not offered congratulations to the government, while other parties had, and questioned whether such inaction was “suitable” for a party that wanted to hold power. “Which political party has the capability?” he said. “When there is no peace, everything is at a loss.”

He also announced July 10 would now be celebrated annually as a day to remember the World Heritage status of Sambor Prei Kuk, as well as Preah Vihear temple, which received its designation in July of 2008.

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