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M'sia police probing KL rally organisers

Publication Date : 02-01-2014


Malaysian police are investigating to see if organisers of Tuesday night's street protest violated a public assembly law, saying that protesters rammed through three separate barriers to disrupt New Year's Eve celebrations downtown.

Deputy city police chief Amar Singh said the breaches happened even though police had been extremely patient with the rally participants.

"We have tried to restrict them from disturbing Dataran Merdeka but they have rammed three barriers that we have erected," he told The Malaysian Insider news website on Wednesday.

He added that two policemen suffered light injuries when the crowd broke through the barriers. The officers were taken to a nearby government hospital.

He also confirmed that police found several machetes and knives at undisclosed locations in Kuala Lumpur last night.

Protesters claimed to have gathered 50,000 people but local media reported police estimating the crowd size at 5,000.

Thousands of black-clad protesters, many carrying anti-government placards and wearing Guy Fawkes masks, staged spirited but peaceful marches from three locations in the city towards the historic Dataran Merdeka square where an annual government-organised New Year's Eve party was being held.

The protesters, a loose coalition of student groups calling themselves "Turun", or "Get down", are angry about rising prices for everything from petrol to property.

Chanting "Reduce prices", they disrupted the free City Hall concert, which was attended by some 40,000 people including families and tourists, about a half hour before midnight.

Organisers quickly dispensed with the traditional New Year's countdown, though fireworks went ahead.

Just before midnight, Kuala Lumpur Mayor Ahmad Phesal Talib took the stage and said "Salam 1Malaysia", a greeting inspired by Prime Minister Najib Razak's national unity slogan, and was promptly booed.

Afterwards, the protesters claimed victory.

"Thank you Malaysians, from well-known individuals to the common man who assembled peacefully and dispersed right after the New Year celebration," Turun chief Azan Safar was quoted by Malaysiakini news website as saying.

For weeks, police have accused protest organisers of plotting to topple the government, and said they planned to bring improvised explosives and weapons to the event.

Last Sunday, police arrested a man with a homemade explosive which he allegedly planned to use during the protest.

The police's relaxed approach to crowd control on Tuesday night was a contrast to how they dealt with protests in recent years in Kuala Lumpur, when they used water cannon and tear gas and arrested scores of protesters.

"Credit the police for changing the way they dealt with the protesters last night," political analyst Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who was at the rally, told The Straits Times yesterday. "But this is only for crowd control. The police have been demonising the crowd for the last three weeks, and this could have inflamed the situation further."

In his New Year message, Najib addressed public unhappiness over the rising cost of living, saying steps will be taken to cushion the impact on Malaysians.

"I understand and sympathise with these concerns. Hard-working people will feel the impact of rising costs," he said in a statement.

Najib earlier said his government would cut entertainment allowances for ministers, freeze government office renovations and use less electricity, among others.


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