Malaysian police arrest more protesters: officials

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Malaysian police Tuesday arrested at least 12 protesters including several opposition leaders as they defied a ban and attempted to hand a petition to parliament.

The arrests are the latest in a series of government crackdowns on recent protests and street demonstrations that have rocked the capital.
They also come one day after Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he would sacrifice public freedom to maintain security in the wake of the mass rallies that have prompted legal action against the organisers.
Sentul district police chief Sofian Yasin said 12 people have been arrested so far while officials from opposition party Keadilan said 21 have been detained, including a 13-year-old boy.
More than 400 police surrounded the parliament to block the electoral reform campaigners who were forced to march there on foot after all roads leading to the building were closed off.
Trees lining the streets were posted with copies of a court order obtained by police that banned the campaigners from parliament.
“The authorities should not have done this. They should have been given the right to hand over a memorandum. After all, that’s all they just wanted to do,” Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Keadilan president and opposition MP, told AFP.
Among opposition leaders arrested were the secretary-general of Keadilan and its information officer and a head of the hardline Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party.
The petition was eventually given to opposition members of parliament to be passed to the speaker.
The memorandum urges lawmakers to reject a proposed amendment to the constitution to extend the retirement age from 65 to 66 years for Election Commission officers.
The protesters claim this would allow the extension of tenure of election commission chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman for another one and a half years.
“Abdul Rashid, whose service is continuously marred with recurring electoral frauds and manipulations, is not fit for the job and must go immediately,” the petition stated.
Cabinet minister Nazri Aziz defended the police action.
“They want to come and demonstrate today’s amendment to the constitution. So they want to come in big numbers. We will not allow that,” he told reporters at parliament.
“We have taken action against them and we are using the court system to prosecute these people,” Nazri said.
Last month, nearly 30,000 demonstrators calling for free and fair elections massed in the capital in a protest led by an alliance of opposition parties and civil society groups.
In a separate rally, thousands of ethnic Indians protested alleged discrimination by Muslim Malays who dominate the population.
Police dispersed the crowds with tear gas and water cannons and arrested scores of demonstrators.
Dozens of government critics have since been rounded up and now face trial on charges including attempted murder and sedition, and the premier has threatened to invoke draconian internal security laws that allow detention without trial.