Australians warned as Malaysia threatens protest arrests
Zoe Daniel, South-East Asia correspondent
Malaysian police have warned anyone attending a mass rally planned in Kuala Lumpur Saturday will be arrested.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says Australians should avoid the demonstration and has updated its travel alert to urge Australians visiting Malaysia to stay away from the event because of the risk of violence and arrests.
The department's Smart Traveller website states that the location of the demonstration has not been confirmed.
"Protest groups may gather in the streets of Kuala Lumpur and/or around a stadium venue on 9 July," it says.
The rally for free and fair elections is being seen as test of the government ahead of forthcoming polls.
Police have already arrested more than 200 supporters of the Bersih - or "clean" - movement that is campaigning for changes to Malaysia's electoral laws.
Bersih is campaigning for an end to gerrymanders that favour the government, a crackdown on fake and bought votes and equal media coverage for the opposition.
Bersih president Ambiga Sreenavasan told Radio Australia's Asia Pacific program the group's main aim was to clean up the electoral system.
"We have a problem with the electoral roll, we think those should be cleaned up because there's always allegations of phantom voters and so on," she said.
Intervention by Malaysia's king seemed to have calmed the tension over the protests with the government agreeing to allow a stadium to be used as a venue, but it then reversed that offer declaring the protest illegal.
Malaysian conservationist and supporter of Malaysian electoral reform June Rubis plans to take part in the demonstration.
She told Asia Pacific the government's response was heavy handed.
"I will admit, I'm terrified," she said. "I attended the first march in 2007 and that itself was very scary. But when you get there, and you see Malaysians of all walks of life, it gives you courage and inspires to continue on.
"So, I know I'm nervous, I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, but all I know is that I'll be with friends, we'll just look out for each other."
The army has this week conducted crowd control practice with banners emblazoned "Disperse or we'll shoot".