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Hundreds arrested in Malaysia protest
August 1, 2009 / 2:08 PM / in 8 years

Hundreds arrested in Malaysia protest

* Malaysian protesters call for end to detention law

* Hundreds arrested in Kuala Lumpur

(Updates arrests)

By Razak Ahmad

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 1 (Reuters) - Malaysian police used teargas and water cannon to disperse thousands of protesters on Saturday, arresting almost 600 people in the biggest demonstration in the country’s capital in almost two years.

Up to 10,000 protesters, headed by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, gathered in the Malaysian capital to demand that the government rescind a law that allows imprisonment without trial, a measure that has in the past been used against the opposition.

"We gather today to fight a cruel law under a cruel administration," Anwar told the rally.

Police fired teargas from the tops of buildings in the centre of Kuala Lumpur in an effort to prevent demonstrations from building up. They also mounted roadblocks in the Malaysian capital, causing huge traffic jams.

Kuala Lumpur Police Chief Muhamad Sabtu Osman said that 589 people had been arrested.

The mainly Malay crowd gathered at the national mosque, chanting "Allahu Akhbar (God is greatest)" and "Down with the government", sending passers-by fleeing and causing shops to put up their shutters while a police helicopter circled overhead.

Police fired teargas and water cannon to disperse protesters who were marching towards the palace to deliver a memorandum to the king urging him to support the repeal of the Internal Security Act (ISA) detention law.


The police however took a hard stance and one government minister vowed that ISA, used in the past to imprison Anwar among others, would never be revoked while the government that has ruled Malaysia for 51 years remained in power.

"We will keep on arresting until we can shut down this demonstration," Deputy Inspector General of Police Ismail Omar told Reuters.

The ISA allows for detention without trial and some analysts say it has mainly been used to quell political dissent.

The law was used last year on a pro-opposition blogger, a journalist, and members of Hindraf, an outlawed Indian rights group which had brought over 10,000 people onto the streets in 2007 demanding better treatment for the ethnic Indian minority.

"The secrecy and unscrupulous practice that surrounds the use of the law ... again exhibits the true colour of the ISA," said a joint statement on Friday by local rights group Suaram, the World Organisation Against Torture and the International Federation for Human Rights.

There are 12 detainees being held under the ISA. Most are suspected of having links to terror groups including Jemaah Islamiah, which carried out the Bali bombings that killed hundreds in 2002.

Najib has promised to review the legislation and released 13 detainees from ISA on taking office in April.

"I regard this (demonstration) as being politically motivated, there is no benefit we can derive from a demonstration like this," he said on Saturday, according to Malaysian state news agency Bernama.

His administration has also been attacked by the opposition for what it says is a politically motivated prosecution of Anwar who is currently on trial for sodomy.

Anwar was dismissed as deputy prime minister in 1998 and imprisoned on corruption and sodomy charges in a country where all homosexual acts are illegal. (Additional reporting by Niluksi Koswanage; Writing by David Chance; Editing by Ron Askew)

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