Saturday, 9 July 2011

Bersih D-Day: 1,667 arrested in Malaysian protest after police locking down capital Kuala Lumpur




Malaysia police arrest more than thousand protesters

Romen Bose and Julia Zappei July 9, 2011 - 10:39PM
Malaysian police have fired teargas and water cannon, making 1400 arrests during clashes with protesters who defied government warnings to rally in the capital for electoral reform.

Leaders of opposition parties were among those detained during a massive security operation, but it failed to thwart the outlawed demonstration, which saw 50,000 citizens take to the streets of Kuala Lumpur, according to organisers.

Protesters faced baton-wielding riot officers in front of a downtown bus station, retreating at times and regrouping to push back police lines in a cat-and-mouse confrontation that took place in a downpour.



Some demonstrators fought back by picking up teargas canisters, which they lobbed at police, AFP reporters said.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was injured during the protest when he fell on to the pavement after a teargas attack and was taken to a hospital as he was feeling unwell, an aide said.

The protesters dissolved into three main groups, and by late afternoon all were trying to force their way through a tight police cordon to a stadium and then to the king's palace to hand over a memorandum detailing their demands.

The police line, however, held firm.

"Why is the government trying to intimidate citizens?" said Mohamad Manij Abdullah, 50, a businessman who joined the rally.

"We are only trying to reform elections and have a free and fair government," he told AFP.

National police chief Ismail Omar told a news conference police had detained 1401 people and were investigating them for illegal assembly although many were expected to be released on bail.

Ismail said barricades around the capital Kuala Lumpur, which had turned it into a ghost town since midnight, would be dismantled if there were no further incidents.

Among those arrested were protest leader Ambiga Sreenivasan and Maria Chin Abdullah. Ambiga told AFP she was freed later on Saturday without being charged.

Abdul Hadi Awang, president of the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS), the country's largest Islamic opposition grouping, was also arrested.

The protesters rallied in several areas of the city, but later began to disperse, said Subramaniam Pillay, one of the organisers, who described the day as "a great success".

Student Chew Ai Nee, 30, said: "We have to take to the streets because we have not been given any opportunity to express our demands for change ... the government cannot silence us when we march."

Many of the protesters were shouting "Reformasi!" (Reforms), "God is great" and "Long Live the People".

However, Mukhriz Mahathir, a leading member of the powerful United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), told AFP the government had to act to prevent anarchy.

"We cannot allow a minority group to protest and stir trouble in the country," he said, accusing protesters of provoking the police into firing teargas "so that they can accuse the government of being heavy-handed".

UMNO is the dominant party in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition led by Prime Minister Najib Razak.
New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced the arrests.

"This is a maelstrom of the Malaysian authorities' own making," said Phil Robertson, deputy director for HRW's Asia Division.

Downtown Kuala Lumpur, normally a hive of activity on weekends, was deserted as major roads into the commercial and tourist district were sealed off.

Meanwhile, about 30 Malaysians living in South Korea rallied in Seoul in support, with another 80 marching through central Hong Kong.

Organisers had called for solidarity walks and demonstrations in countries including Australia, Cambodia, Japan, the United States and Taiwan.

The demonstrators want reforms, including the eradication of vote buying and the prevention of irregularities such as people illegally voting several times during elections.

Bersih (which means clean in the Malay language), which organised the protest, wants to see the use of indelible ink to prevent multiple voting, equal access to the media for all parties and the cleaning-up of electoral rolls.

Malaysia's opposition made major gains in 2008 elections against the ruling coalition, but said they could have won more if voting rules were fair.

The country's next elections are widely expected to be called early next year, with the opposition aiming to end Barisan's half-century rule.

© 2011 AFP

In Pictures: Protests suppressed in Malaysia
Police fired tear-gas and arrested hundreds of protesters in Kuala Lumpur who were calling for electoral reforms.
Last Modified: 09 Jul 2011 13:39

More than 20,000 people demonstrated for electoral reforms across Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, on Saturday in a rare protest that was declared illegal by police. The protest was called for by opposition groups, including the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, Bersih (Clean). Police fired tear-gas and water cannons at demonstrators and arrested more than 1,400 people, including top opposition leaders, according to protest organisers. The activists' demands include an overhaul of voter registration lists, tougher measures to curb fraud and fairer opportunities for opposition politicians to campaign in government-linked media. Malaysia's next general election is planned due in 2013.

1) With Kuala Lumpur under police lockdown since the morning, protesters tried to gather and seek refuge inside a railway station before being led outside by police where many were detained and put into police vans. [Saeed Khan/AFP]

2) Protesters display the yellow shirts of the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, or Bersih (Clean}, during a rally calling for electoral reforms in Kuala Lumpur [Ahmad Yusni/EPA]

3) Riot police stand making a cordon in front of Malaysia's iconic twin towers before demonstrators gather [Saeed Khan/AFP]

4) A Bersih supporter shouts at police during clashes in downtown Kuala Lumpur [Shahir Omar/Reuters]

5) Police use a water cannon to spray Bersih supporters in downtown Kuala Lumpur [Samsul Said/Reuters]

6) A Bersih supporter throws a water bottle at a police water-cannon truck [Mohd Rasfan/AFP]

7) Police face off against thousands of Bersih supporters [Saeed Khan/AFP]

8) A Bersih supporter holds the Malaysian flag in front of a police water cannon [Damir Sagolj/Reuters])

9) Police in riot gear march under heavy rain toward protesters calling for electoral reforms [Saeed Khan/AFP

10) Police face off against thousands of protesters in a scene shrouded by tear gas [Saeed Khan/AFP]

11) A Bersih supporter is detained by police during protests in downtown Kuala Lumpur [Damir Sagolj/Reuters]

12) A Bersih supporter is detained by police during protests in downtown Kuala Lumpur [Saedd Khan/AFP]

13) Bersih supporters are detained by police during protests in downtown Kuala Lumpur [Damir Sagolj/Reuters]

14) Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (C) is surrounded by supporters, one of whom is injured, after a protest in Kuala Lumpur calling for electoral reforms [AFP]

15) Bersih supporters chant slogans during a protest calling for electoral reforms in downtown Kuala Lumpur [Damir Sagolj/Reuters]

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Malaysia police detain hundreds at rally

Police fire teargas as more than 20,000 demonstrators demand electoral reform during five-hour standoff in Kuala Lumpur

Associated Press in Kuala Lumpur guardian.co.uk,
Malaysia protests
Malaysian police attempt to detain protesters during clashes in Kuala Lumpur on 9 July. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Police fired teargas and detained hundreds of activists as more than 20,000 demonstrators gathered across Malaysia's capital on Saturday, demanding electoral reforms in the country's biggest political rally in years.

The opposition-backed rally was the culmination of weeks of intense pressure on the government of prime minister Najib Razak to make election laws fairer and more transparent before general elections expected to take place by mid-2012.

Demonstrators marched in defiance of Najib's administration, which has declared the rally illegal and warned people to avoid it.

Opposition leaders accuse Najib's National Front coalition of relying on fraud to preserve its 54-year grip on power, which has been eroded in recent years amid allegations of corruption and racial discrimination. The government insists the current electoral policies are fair.



Authorities took extraordinary security measures to deter the rally by sealing off roads, closing train stations and deploying trucks with water cannons near the Independence Stadium in central Kuala Lumpur, where activists sought to gather.

Police said in a statement they had detained 924 people, including senior opposition officials, in what they called Operation Erase Bersih, referring to the Bersih (Clean) coalition of groups behind the rally.

Thousands tried to reach the stadium from various parts of Kuala Lumpur, chanting "Long live the people", and carrying yellow balloons and flowers as they marched.

Police fired numerous rounds of teargas and chemical-laced water in repeated attempts to disperse the crowds, causing demonstrators to scatter into nearby buildings and alleys before regrouping.
Police helicopters flew overhead as a brief downpour failed to deter the protesters.

The demonstrators finally dispersed after a five-hour standoff with police. Only several hundred reached the stadium.

Najib insisted on Saturday that the protesters represent a minority, and that most Malaysians support his administration. "If there are people who want to hold the illegal rally, there are even more who are against their plan," the prime minister was quoted as saying by the national news agency, Bernama.

Witnesses said riot police armed with batons charged at some protesters and dragged them into trucks. Some were seen bleeding, but police could not confirm any injuries.

The opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said on Twitter that he had sustained a "minor injury" when his group was hit by teargas. The Malaysiakini news website said he had a knee injury.

The crackdown "stirred a sense of outrage against the exhibition of raw power by our government", the Bersih coalition leader Ambiga Sreenavasan told reporters. "What is the necessity for a show of might against right? No matter what, right will always prevail," she said, minutes before police detained her and other Bersih officials.

Activists estimated that the total number of demonstrators exceeded 20,000 people, making it Malaysia's biggest street rally since 2007. Some independent news websites estimated there were tens of thousands of people, but authorities did not immediately have an official figure.

The rally has galvanised the opposition and has been credited for a surge in political awareness among the public in recent weeks. Meanwhile, government officials accuse Anwar's three-party alliance of endorsing the rally to cause chaos on the streets and undermine the National Front.

Over the past two weeks, more than 200 other activists have been arrested nationwide for trying to promote the rally. Six are being held under security laws that allow indefinite detention without trial. Most of the others have been released, but some have been charged with laws banning activities linked to illegal assemblies. They face several years in prison if convicted.

The activists' demands include an overhaul of voter registration lists, tougher measures to curb fraud and fairer opportunities for opposition politicians to campaign in government-linked media. The National Front's mandate expires in mid-2013 but many analysts expect elections to be called by next year.

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Hundreds arrested in Malaysian protest

(Agencies)

Hundreds arrested in Malaysian protest
Supporters of the "Bersih" electoral reform coalition are ushered into a police truck near the National Museum after being detained before a planned Bersih rally in Kuala Lumpur July 9, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]


KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Police fired tear gas and detained hundreds of activists as more than 20,000 demonstrators massed Saturday across Malaysia's main city demanding electoral reforms in the country's biggest political rally in years.

The opposition-backed rally was the culmination of weeks of intense pressure on Prime Minister Najib Razak's long-ruling coalition to make election laws fairer and more transparent ahead of national polls widely expected by mid-2012.

Demonstrators marched in defiance of Najib's administration, which has declared the rally illegal and warned people repeatedly to avoid it.

Opposition leaders accuse Najib's National Front coalition of relying on fraud to preserve its 54-year grip on power, which has been eroded in recent years amid mounting complaints about corruption and racial discrimination. The government insists the current electoral policies are evenhanded.

Authorities took extraordinary security measures to deter Saturday's rally by sealing off roads, closing train stations and deploying trucks mounted with water cannons near the Independence Stadium in downtown Kuala Lumpur, where activists sought to gather.

Nevertheless, thousands tried to reach the stadium from various parts of Kuala Lumpur, chanting "Long live the people" and carrying yellow balloons and flowers as they marched.

Police fired numerous rounds of tear gas and chemical-laced water in repeated attempts to disperse the crowds, causing demonstrators to scatter into nearby buildings and alleys before they regrouped. Police helicopters flew overhead as a brief downpour failed to deter the protesters.



Najib insisted Saturday the protesters only represent a minority, and that most Malaysians support his administration.

"If there are people who want to hold the illegal rally, there are even more who are against their plan," the prime minister was quoted as saying by the national news agency, Bernama.

The federal police force said in a statement that it detained 670 people in a clampdown called "Operation Erase Bersih," referring to the Bersih coalition of civic groups organizing the rally. Those arrested included several senior opposition officials.

Witnesses said riot police armed with batons charged at some protesters and dragged them into trucks. Some were seen bleeding, but police could not confirm any injuries.

Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's top opposition figure, said on Twitter that he sustained a "minor injury" when his group was hit by tear gas. The Malaysiakini news website said he had a knee injury.

The crackdown "stirred a sense of outrage against the exhibition of raw power by our government," Bersih coalition leader Ambiga Sreenavasan told reporters.

"What is the necessity for a show of might against right? No matter what, right will always prevail," she said, minutes before police detained her and other Bersih officials as they walked to the stadium.

As the afternoon progressed, activists estimated the total number of demonstrators exceeded 20,000 people, making it Malaysia's biggest street rally since 2007. Some independent news websites estimated there were tens of thousands of people, but authorities did not immediately have an official figure.

The rally has galvanized the opposition and has been credited for a surge in political awareness among the public in recent weeks.

Government officials accuse Anwar's three-party alliance of endorsing the rally to cause chaos on the streets and undermine the National Front.

Numerous restaurants and stores were closed because of the transportation disruptions and fears of violence.

Over the past two weeks, more than 200 other activists have been arrested nationwide for trying to promote the rally. Six are being held under security laws that allow indefinite detention without trial. Most of the others were eventually released, but some were charged with laws banning activities linked to illegal assemblies. They face several years in prison if convicted.

The activists' demands include an overhaul of voter registration lists, tougher measures to curb fraud and fairer opportunities for opposition politicians to campaign in government-linked media. The National Front's mandate expires in mid-2013 but many analysts expect elections to be called by next year.

Supporters of the Bersih coalition were also planning solidarity marches over the weekend in foreign cities, including in Australia, Britain, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and the United States.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the US has been communicating to Malaysia the importance of respecting human rights, including freedom of expression and assembly.
"We consider it incumbent on all sides to refrain from violence, particularly if we're going to have another rally tomorrow," she told a news conference Friday.
Hundreds arrested in Malaysian protest
Police blocks off the road leading to Dataran Merdeka (Merdeka Square) in Kuala Lumpur July 8, 2011, ahead of Saturday's planned rally by "Bersih", an electoral reform coalition calling for clean and fair elections. [Photo/Agencies]

 Malaysian police locks down Capital


Move comes as opposition group vows to press on with plans to hold pro-democracy rally.


Major roads in Kuala Lumpur, a city of 1.6 million, are closed [AFP]

Malaysian riot police have sealed off access to the capital Kuala Lumpur for the day as an opposition group vowed to press on with plans to hold a mass pro-democracy rally.

Police on Saturday set up roadblocks in the city centre and lorries mounted with water cannons were deployed to prevent the demonstration, which was planned by the opposition and an electoral reform group seeking greater transparency.

Major roads in Kuala Lumpur, a city of 1.6 million, are closed. Electronic signboards on highways leading into the city centre warned of legal action against those joining the protest.

A massive protest could signal that the ruling National Front coalition is losing ground and may spur Najib Razak, the Malaysian prime minister, to delay painful economic and political reforms.

A general election is not due until 2013 but Razak has not ruled out early polls, after economic growth accelerated to a 10-year high in 2010.

"No matter how badly we are repressed or prosecuted, the peaceful voice of the rakyat (people) will be heard in Kuala Lumpur come the 9th of July," protest organisers said in a statement.

The rally is being organised by an opposition-backed group called Bersih, or Clean. It has called for reforms following accusations that the election commission is biased towards the ruling coalition which has been in power since independence from Britain in 1957. The commission denies the charge.

Despite government accusations that the protesters are threatening national security, protest organisers have been adamant that they are pushing for electoral reform.

"The government of the day is not perfect," the pro-government New Straits Times newspaper said in an editorial.

"But be sure of one thing, we don't solve problems on the streets. That is not us, nor our way."

Growing opposition voice

Major street demonstrations are rare in this Southeast Asian country, but the rise of alternative media channels and a growing opposition voice are gradually creating a more vocal Malaysian public.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators demanded reforms at a November 2007 rally, which analysts said galvanised support for the opposition ahead of record gains in a 2008 general election.

The police launched a similar crackdown in 2007.

Razak took power in 2009, and inherited a divided ruling coalition which had been weakened by historic losses in the 2008 polls.

He had promised to restructure the government and economy and introduce an inclusive brand of politics aimed at uniting the country's different ethnic and religious groups.

Razak's approval ratings have risen from 45 per cent to 69 per cent in February, according to Merdeka centre, an independent polling group. But analysts said recent ethnic and religious differences have undermined his popularity.

D-Day for sense to prevail

ANALYSIS By BARADAN KUPPUSAMY

Kuala Lumpur is in lockdown today to protect the public from any untoward incident in the event that any individual or group chooses to defy measures put in place to stop potentially-disruptive rallies.
 
POLICE have locked down Kuala Lumpur, closed the city's roads and placed restriction orders on 91 individuals, including Pakatan Rakyat leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Bersih chairman Datuk S. Ambiga.

 
The order is also placed on leading members of Ambiga's steering committee as well as on Umno Youth and Perkasa leaders.




A magistrate has ordered the 91 people to stay away from certain spots in Kuala Lumpur between 8am and 6pm today, or they would be arrested on sight.
 
In addition to these measures, all major roads leading into Kuala Lumpur have been closed and others monitored to prevent Bersih demonstrators from entering the city individually or in groups and moving in on Merdeka Stadium, their preferred venue for the rally.

 
Presumably, all the roads leading to the stadium would also be closed with police monitoring traffic to prevent demonstrators from reaching the stadium for the rally which is supposed to take place between 2pm and 4pm.

 
Police are also pressing on with their action against those flaunting the Bersih T-shirts and other paraphernalia.

 
It would indeed take a really determined person to run the gauntlet of restrictions and still make it to the stadium by 2pm for a rally that is in great doubt considering all the police actions to stop it from taking place.

 
At a meeting with Bersih leaders, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar offered to let them hold their rally at Shah Alam Stadium.

 
However, Bersih leaders rejected it outright even though Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim is on record as holding it out to them.

 
Bersih leaders are well aware of the historical and political significance of Merdeka Stadium, the place where the country's independence was announced.

 
In November 2007, over 40,000 protesters managed to make their way to the palace and Anwar handed the Bersih memorandum to palace officials.

 
Then, the rakyat did experience change. It galvanised them by reinforcing their belief that together they could prove a point that Umno is not infallible.


 
Long years in power does that to any institution.

 
But five years on, the same argument cannot be repeated any more. Umno is not the same Umno as before because it is reforming itself. Neither is the Election Commission stagnant but willing to engage in dialogue with its critics.

 
Nevertheless, Bersih leaders have called on supporters to press ahead with the rally at Merdeka Stadium and they are not averse to defying the order restricting them from being seen near any of the hot spots in the city.

 
“No matter how badly we are repressed or prosecuted, the peaceful voice of the people will be heard in Kuala Lumpur,” the Bersih steering committee said in a statement.

 
“There is no reason whatsoever to ban anyone from entering the city. We have stated time and again that where Bersih 2.0 is concerned, our only intent is to exercise our constitutional right to gather peacefully and call for clean and fair elections.”

 
The stage is therefore set for a showdown between supporters of Bersih 2.0 and the authorities, who are hell bent on seeing that the demonstration fizzles out.

 
The Bersih rally has appeared large on the nation's political screen ever since Bersih held a press conference announcing its intention on June 5.

 
After the King intervened and persuaded Bersih to call off its rally, the coalition of 62 NGOs agreed to move its venue to Merdeka Stadium, knowing well the stadium's operators would not allow it.

 
The failure to not march was a big letdown for Anwar, who had wanted to have the street rally in a test of strength with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

 
He had wanted the rally so that he could gather and direct the public storm in time for the 13th general election to galvanise the rakyat.

 
Bersih is organisationally weak and has no muscle of its own. It is weak because the NGOs that make up its core membership are also weak organisationally and rely on Anwar for a unifying leadership and on PAS to fill up the Bersih rank-and-file.

 
Behind the individual NGOs in Bersih, there are no lines of supporters able to take a hard knock or withstand a head-on collision with the authorities, except perhaps for the dedicated PAS members.

 
That would be what the critics have always been saying, that behind Bersih 2.0 is Anwar and that Bersih, the coalition for electoral reform, is merely a tool for his political game plan.

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