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Cambodia’s Sam Rainsy Returns to Cheers Before Vote

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy arrived in Phnom Penh nine days before a national election, ending a four-year exile after receiving a royal pardon for charges he says were politically motivated.

Thousands of cheering supporters greeted Sam Rainsy, who stood on a makeshift stage at the airport to greet the crowd, according to live footage on his Cambodia National Rescue Party’s website. The former finance minister has lived abroad since 2009 to avoid jail time for falsifying maps and inciting racial discrimination.

King Norodom Sihamoni pardoned Sam Rainsy last week following a request from Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the country in various coalitions since 1985. Cambodians will pick a new parliament on July 28.

Sam Rainsy’s return may boost the prospects of his political party, which was formed a year ago to unite the main opposition groups. He is banned from running as a candidate in the election.

Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won 90 of 123 seats in an election in 2008 that was described by the U.S. as an “improvement” over previous votes despite some flaws. The party is set to win again even though the opposition is poised to take more seats, government spokesman Phay Siphan said on July 12.

Cambodia’s economy grew 7.2 percent last year on higher consumption and investment, the Asian Development Bank said in April. Gross domestic product is forecast to expand at the same pace this year and 7.5 percent in 2014 as the U.S. and Europe buy more Cambodia-made garments and footwear, the ADB said.

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