Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tear gas fired at Malaysia rally (al-jazeera)

Tear gas fired at Malaysia rally

The police attempted to disperse crowd
gathered at the city centre [Reuters]

Malaysian police have fired tear gas shells and water cannons to disperse hundreds of activists at an opposition-backed rally in the capital Kuala Lumpur.

The rally on Saturday was organised by activists demanding changes to the electoral system ahead of general elections expected early next year.

Thousands of demonstrators in the city centre were stopped by a police cordon as they tried to march to the Merdeka [Independence] Square, the planned location of the rally.
Many activists barricaded themselves in a nearby mosque for protection.

Al Jazeera's Hamish McDonald reporting from Kuala Lumpur said the police sprayed chemicals on the protesters in order to disperse them.
Activists then made their way to the king's palace to deliver a list of demands, which was handed to a representative of the country's head of state.
Police said there were 10,000 protesters, but organisers said about 30,000 people were present.
Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister who was jailed for participating in protests in 1998 and is now a key opposition figure, attended the rally.
"It is a good sign that Malaysians want freedom and democracy and want free and fair elections," Ibrahim said.
Roadblocks and barricades were placed around the city on Saturday. A permit for the rally was refused by police.
"We will not hesitate to take action against those who defied our orders," Zul Hasnan Najib, Kuala Lumpur's police chief, said.
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the prime minister, said on Friday that the government would not tolerate street demonstrations.
"They are challenging the patience of the people who want the country to be peaceful and stable. That is what they are challenging, not me," he said at a ruling party meeting.
The rally has been organised by Bersih (Clean), a loose coalition of 26 opposition parties and non-governmental organisations.
The protesters say the electoral process disproportionately favours Abdullah's ruling coalition.

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