IMRAN IMTIAZ SHAH YACOB
10 November 2007
Central Kuala Lumpur turned chaotic Saturday as baton-wielding riot police used water cannon and tear gas to try and thwart an attempt by tens of thousands of marchers to deliver a petition to Malaysia’s king, asking for royal intervention in delivering electoral reform.
“There is a massive jam all over town, as the police have set up road barricades everywhere,” a witness told Asia Sentinel in the morning. “A lot of entry points into the city are being monitored by the police. A heavy, heavy rain just subsided and one wonders whether this will dampen the turnout for the march.”
It didn’t. As many as 40,000 people struggled to make their way into the city center in defiance of the police ban on the rally before heading for the Istana Negara, the king’s palace.
The confrontation between the country’s nine sultans and the government appears to be deepening as well, with Mizan Zainal Abidin, the Sultan of Terengganu, who currently holds the rotating kingship and is Malaysia’s constitutional head of state, ordering his royal guards to stand aside so that the marchers could deliver the petition despite the fact that police had refused to grant a permit for the rally. The delegation, led by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, handed the memorandum to the King’s secretary at the gate of the Istana Negara at 4 pm, accompanied by PAS’ Hadi Awang and Nasharuddin Mat Isa and DAP’s Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng. The organisers then asked the crowd to disperse
Malaysia’s mainstream press, owned by the ethnic political parties, carried nothing on their websites about the protest, the biggest in Malaysia in a decade. Popular websites were jammed, apparently by government-allied cyber-jammers.
The protests were led by an organization called Bersih, or the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, an umbrella group encompassing 64 civil-society groups and five opposition political parties. The action Saturday was in direct defiance to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who earlier vowed that the government would crack down on the demonstrators. “We will not hesitate to take action against those who defied our orders,” state news agency Bernama quoted Kuala Lumpur police chief Zul Hasnan Najib as saying. The police had refused to grant a permit for the rally.
Malaysian Petitioners Defy Police
IMRAN IMTIAZ SHAH YACOB