Nov 10, 07
Tens of thousands of protesters massed outside Istana Negara this afternoon, facing off against riot police in defiance of a government ban on the rally calling for clean and fair elections.
The demonstrators, an alliance of opposition parties and civil society groups, had marched in the driving rain to the palace, chanting “Election Reform” and “Justice”.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had vowed to suppress the demonstration, backing police who said they feared riots could break out.
But the rally went ahead despite efforts to close down the centre of Kuala Lumpur, with a heavy police presence and roadblocks that caused traffic snarls.
“There are close to 30,000 protesters here at the moment. We have agreed to have them sit down in front of the palace and have four representatives present a petition” to the palace representative, a senior police officer told AFP.
Bersih: 40,000 at palace gate
Organisers of the rally said that at least 40,000 had turned up for the rally.
Some 400 police in riot gear were deployed at the palace, including dozens armed with automatic weapons and several with tear gas launchers. Two water cannons were set up behind police lines.
“The Malaysian public must be allowed to express their opinions and views,” parliamentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said at the palace gates before going in to deliver the petition.
“It is not fair for the government not to issue a permit for this rally to take place as it is only the voice of the people being expressed here,” he said.
Organisers had planned to hold the rally at the city’s Dataran Merdeka but were forced to shift the venue after police sealed it off.
Anwar made short speech
Anwar Ibrahim, who was heir apparent to former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad until 1998 when he was sacked and jailed for sodomy and corruption, was only allowed to make brief remarks at the rally.
He yelled out his slogan of “Reformasi” or “Reform” and thanked the crowd for coming.
“We want free and fair elections and clearly Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and his cabinet are complicit to the crime of cheating Malaysians from having free and fair elections,” he told reporters later.
Anwar’s sodomy conviction has been overturned but the corruption verdict stands, barring him from standing for public office until April 2008.
Protests are rare in Malaysia, and the last major rallies were seen in 1998 during the “Reformasi” movement that erupted after Anwar’s sacking.
40,000 protest for free and fair elections (mkini)
Nov 10, 07