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May 19, 5:23 PM EDT

US calls for Cambodia vote 'free from threats'

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The State Department is calling for Cambodia to avoid threats and political intimidation as campaigning begins for local elections.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has ruled for three decades, and he has warned of civil war if voters do not support his ruling Cambodian People's Party.

Campaigning for June 4 elections starts Saturday. The elections are seen as a bellwether of the party's support ahead of national elections in 2018.

A State Department spokeswoman for East Asia, Alicia Edwards, says the U.S. is urging the Cambodian government to "guarantee a political space free from threats or intimidation" and respect freedom of expression for all its citizens.

Cambodia's defense minister has reportedly warned that the army will "smash the teeth" of anyone protesting a win by the ruling party.

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