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388 arrested as Kuala Lumpur protest turns ugly
Publication Date : 29-04-2012
Protesters break past barriers, triggering riot police response; patrol car overturned
Tear-gas clouded downtown Kuala Lumpur yesterday as protesters stormed police barricades during a massive rally.
Riot police fired tear gas canisters and turned chemical-laced water on crowds estimated at up to 25,000 who had poured into the streets to demand electoral reforms. At least 388 were arrested.
The protesters engaged in running battles with police for hours, before they finally dispersed.
The rally was the third major demonstration organised since 2007 by Bersih, a coalition pushing for electoral reforms ahead of the next general election, which could be held within months. Bersih also staged protests in other parts of the country, including Johor Baru.
The Kuala Lumpur rally began in the morning as supporters, many wearing the group's chosen colour yellow, chanted "Bersih" and "Long live the people". They marched to Merdeka Square, stopping traffic along the way.
"We want a change in the election system, we want a clean electoral roll and fair elections," said property agent Manisegaran Karruppen, 52.
Organisers had planned a sit-down protest along the perimeter of historic Merdeka Square, having been denied access to the square itself by a court order issued a day before the protest. The police had cordoned off the area, and thousands of security personnel were on standby.
The situation turned ugly later in the afternoon.
"The message we are sending to Najib is that we must have clean elections!" opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim shouted to a crowd, referring to Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Soon after, protesters nearest the barricades started agitating for entry. Some removed the barbed wire and pushed past, triggering the police response.
Bersih chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan later told reporters that "everything was going fine until someone broke through". She said: "We want the police to fully investigate all who engaged in violence. This was not what we wanted at all."
Eyewitnesses said protesters assaulted two police officers and overturned their patrol car, after it hit three people.
In a statement last night, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein commended the police for their "professionalism and restraint shown under difficult circumstances". He regretted Bersih's earlier refusal to broker a compromise solution of an alternative venue.
"The first responsibility of the police must always be to maintain public safety and security," he said.