Police Fire Tear Gas as Thousands Defy Malaysian Protest Ban
Police fired tear gas and fought
with protesters in Kuala Lumpur as thousands of people marched
calling for “reform” and cleaner elections yesterday, defying
a new government ban on street protests in Malaysia before
national polls expected this year.
Police also used water cannons as protesters threw shoes,
bottles and chairs while trying to break through barricades to
enter a square where the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections,
or Bersih, wanted to hold a sit-in. Prime Minister Najib Razak’s
government enacted legislation this month banning such protests
after police detained more than 1,600 people during a similar
rally in July.
“A group of protesters tried to provoke a violent
confrontation with police,” Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein
said in an e-mailed statement. About 388 people were detained
overall, according to a Twitter posting by the Malaysian police.
Najib’s handling of the clashes may affect plans for timing
an election. Arrests during a street rally by the same group
last year led to a drop in the prime minister’s approval rating.
A delayed vote would prevent him from taking advantage of a
swell in support that followed increases to civil servant
salaries and cash payments to poor households.
“The Malaysian government is once again showing its
contempt for its people’s basic rights and freedoms,” Phil
Robertson, deputy Asia director at New York-based Human Rights
Watch, said in a statement yesterday. “Despite all the talk of
‘reform’ over the past year, we’re seeing a repeat of repressive
actions by a government that does not hesitate to use force when
it feels its prerogatives are challenged.”
The authorities began cordoning off Kuala Lumpur’s
Independence Square on April 27 after getting a court order
preventing people from entering the area where Bersih planned a
sit-in. Crowds marched in groups toward the square from
different parts of the city, including the 88-floor Petronas
One police car was overturned and a gun snatched by a
protester, a Royal Malaysia Police spokesman said. The pistol
was later retrieved, Hishammuddin said in a Twitter posting. Two
officers were admitted to hospital with injuries and
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