The Associated Press
Sunday, November 11, 2007
KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian police detained 245 people after firing tear gas and water cannons to disperse the biggest political street protest in Malaysia in nearly a decade, the police said Sunday.
The detainees were released after providing statements but could later be charged and face up to a year in jail if convicted of taking part in an illegal assembly, a police official said. “We are still investigating, but they have all been freed on bail,” said the official, who declined to be identified, citing policy.
Thousands of people demonstrated in downtown Kuala Lumpur on Saturday for election reform, in defiance of a government ban. But they were scattered as the police fired tear gas and water cannons near Merdeka Square, where they had gathered. Merdeka is Malaysian for independence.
The crowd, many wearing yellow T-shirts, later regrouped and marched to the royal palace in a procession more than 300 meters, or 1,000 feet, long, shouting “Save Malaysia” and “Long Live the People.” Yellow is the color of Malaysian royalty. Protesters presented a memorandum to a representative of the king, urging him to intervene to ensure that the election system be revamped ahead of the general elections widely expected to be held early next year.
“This is our right. Our rulers are so proud of our democracy but in fact our democracy is worse than Burma, worse than Bangladesh,” said Rosli, a 40-year-old government worker. “We just want to correct what is wrong. We just ask for fair elections.”
Musa Hassan, chief of the national police, was quoted by The Sunday Star putting the crowd size at 4,000 people. But rally organizers estimated at least 30,000.
It was the biggest political demonstration in Malaysia since supporters of Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister, took to the streets for several days in September 1998 to protest his dismissal from the cabinet and governing party by Mahathir bin Mohamad, the country’s leader at the time.
Anwar subsequently formed the People’s Justice Party, one of three opposition parties involved in the demonstration Saturday. “It is a good signal that Malaysians want freedom and democracy, and they want free and fair elections,” he said.
The rally was organized by about 70 nongovernmental organizations and opposition parties, which demanded the removal of phantom voters from electoral rolls, a crackdown on government workers using absentee ballots, access to state-controlled media by all political parties, and an end to vote-buying and other irregularities.
The election commission has agreed to another demand that voters daub a finger with indelible ink to prevent them casting more than one vote.
Malaysian police disperse protesters with tear gas (IHT/AP)
The Associated Press