Nov 12, 07
Prime Minister has defended the use of tear gas and water cannon to break up a mass weekend protest for electoral reform, the biggest seen here in a decade, a report said today.
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi also accused organisers of dragging the country’s revered king, who holds a largely ceremonial role in Malaysian society, into politics.
“I have left it to the police and they handled it very well and I am very happy. Such illegal assemblies … will cause hardship and make many people angry,” Abdullah was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times.
Hundreds of police unleashed tear gas and water cannon on 40,000 protesters who, despite a government ban, marched Saturday from the city centre to the royal palace to hand over a memorandum calling for clean and fair elections.
Leading human rights group Suaram said up to 40 people were arrested, although police said 245 had been detained.
Organisers also said that at least seven people were beaten and kicked by police and that some needed hospital treatment, including one man whose leg was broken.
Wise, mature king
The rare protest was the largest seen in the city since major rallies in 1998 when supporters of then deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim took to the streets after he was sacked and arrested on sodomy and corruption charges.
The protest coalition called for a reform of the electoral process including a review of the electoral roll, curbs on postal voting, which they say is being abused, and equal access to state media for all competing parties.
Elections are widely expected to be held early next year.
Abdullah said the rally was “tantamount to dragging the institution of the monarchy, and the king, into politics,” adding: “I believe the king is wise and mature and would not fall into their political trap.”
The king, acting on cabinet advice, signs bills into law and appoints ministers, judges and ambassadors, but nevertheless commands great respect from ordinary citizens.
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