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Malaysia: Police Break Up Ethnic Indian Rally, Detain More Than 120 People


KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA: Malaysian police fired tear gas and water cannons to break up a rally by about 200 ethnic Indians, some carrying roses to symbolize their peaceful demand for racial equality.

The crackdown in Kuala Lumpur Saturday (16 Feb) came ahead of March 8 general elections and was likely to further alienate Malaysia's minority ethnic Indians, who have long complained of racial discrimination in this country that has an ethnic Malay Muslim majority.

Police detained 124 people at the rally, said Kuala Lumpur police chief Muhammad Sabtu Osman. Nine people would be charged with taking part in an illegal assembly but the rest were released, he said.

Those detained ignored a police order to disperse and did have a permit to hold the assembly, Muhammad said in a statement issued to the national news agency Bernama. Any gathering of four or more people requires a police permit in Malaysia.

Among those arrested was S. Manikavasagam, a leader of the Hindu Rights Action Force, or Hindraf, which organized the rally. The group had sought police permission for the rally, but it was denied.

"We just want to express our right to freely assemble," N. Surendran, a Hindraf member, told The Associated Press. "This is a massive campaign of intimidation."

Ethnic Indians accuse the ethnic Malay-dominated government of depriving them of employment and education opportunities. The predominantly Hindu Indians, who make up 8% of Malaysia's 27 million people, also complain of religious discrimination.

Hindraf had planned to gather about 10,000 people, including 200 children, outside Parliament to hand over roses to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as part of the protest.

However, almost no children took part in the rally out of fear of violence, and only a handful of protesters carried roses. The demonstrators shouted anti-government slogans and jeered at riot police who set up barricades on several roads leading to Parliament.

"Long Live Hindraf" and "We want our rights," they chanted before being chased away by bursts of tear gas and water cannons.

Abdullah condemned the demonstration, saying it was an attempt to create chaos and undermine the election process.

"Those who are out to create trouble do not respect our democracy process," Abdullah was quoted by Bernama as saying.

Abdullah's National Front coalition, which has governed Malaysia since its independence from Britain in 1957, is expected to easily win the elections, but with a smaller parliamentary majority because of public concerns over inflation, corruption and crime.

The Indian anger was expected to further chip away at government support.

"This election, all my family is voting for the opposition. I don't want this government anymore," P. Selvam, a 55-year-old company supervisor, told the AP before being detained at Saturday's rally.

It was the first public gathering by Hindraf since police used tear gas and water cannons to crush a Nov. 25 demonstration by at least 20,000 ethnic Indians in Kuala Lumpur. (By JULIA ZAPPEI/ AP)

MySinchew 2008.02.17

 

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