Saturday, July 09, 2011

Hundreds Held Over Bersih Rally

(1.21pm Malaysian time)

Malaysia: Hundreds detained over banned rally

Police confront protesters at a railway station in Kuala Lumpur. 9 July 2011 Protesters who gathered at a railway station in Kuala Lumpur were dispersed by police
 
Malaysian police have detained more than 330 people as they tried to assemble for a banned protest in the capital Kuala Lumpur.
Opposition activists are trying to gather supporters for a rally calling for electoral reform.

The police said the rally was illegal and that they would do everything they could to maintain order.
Major roads were due to be shut and public transportation suspended from midnight on Friday (1600 GMT).

"The public is reminded not to be involved in any demonstration," a federal police statement said.
"Stern action will be taken against those who disobey."

A group calling itself the Bersih 2.0 coalition has been planning to hold the rally in a sports stadium on Saturday.

Police have questioned more than 150 activists in recent weeks, and 91 have been barred from the city.
More than 30 activists remain in detention after being arrested almost two weeks ago.

The demonstrators initially organised a street rally, but agreed to hold their gathering in a sports stadium after objections from the authorities.
 
'Keep our focus' But police say the rally is still illegal, despite its change of venue.

"Merdeka Stadium, which they chose, is too close to the city centre and can create massive traffic jams and disrupt businesses," federal police chief Ismail Omar was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times.

Police have not given a permit for the rally, but the demonstrators have argued that they do not need permission.

"We are heading for the stadium," a representative of Bersih, Andrew Khoo, told AFP news agency.
"We will keep our focus on the basic demands... to campaign for free and fair elections. We won't be distracted."

Rally organisers say Malaysia's electoral system is plagued with fraud - they want longer campaign periods, automatic voter registration and equality of access to the largely government-linked mainstream media.

The authorities say the protesters are trying to promote communist ideology, thereby "waging war against the king".

Police have accused several of those they have arrested of carrying flyers and T-shirts with "inflammatory slogans".

The police launched a crackdown after a similar demonstration in 2007.

Analysts say that protest helped the opposition win an unprecedented number of seats in the last general election.

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