Exiled Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy was blocked in Paris Thursday from boarding a plane destined for Thailand, from where he had hoped to return home.
"I am extremely shocked because the people need me in Cambodia," the arch-rival of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told journalists at Charles de Gaulle airport shortly after an agent at the Thai Airways counter turned him away.
Rainsy had planned to make a dramatic end to his exile to mark Cambodian Independence Day on Saturday, meeting up with other exiled opposition members in Thailand before crossing the border to their home country.
But Hun Sen, an authoritarian leader who has ruled Cambodia since 1985, has vowed not to allow Rainsy to return, to have him arrested on sight, and has sought support from regional neighbours to thwart the opposition's plans.
Earlier Thursday, Mu Sochua -- the deputy leader of Rainsy's Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was held in Malaysia as she tried to fly home for her leader's planned return.
Rainsy has lived in France since 2015 to avoid jail in Cambodia for convictions he says are politically motivated.
In September, Rainsy and several opposition officials were charged with plotting a coup, which carries a prison term of up to 30 years.
Dozens of opposition activists have been arrested in weeks for allegedly agitating for the government to be toppled during Rainsy's mooted return.
"I will never give up," Rainsy said as he got into a taxi to leave the airport Thursday, and insisted he would seek "an alternative flight to be able to leave for Thailand today."
"Hun Sen's days are counted," the opposition leader said. "Democracy will be established as soon as possible; it is our determination, it is our conviction."
A few dozen supporters greeted Rainsy in the terminal building, including a handful of Buddhist monks with a banner supporting the return of "Mr Rainsy to the mother country".