MALAYSIA.— More than 20,000 demonstrators arrived at Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, demanding electoral reforms.
Confrontations between pro-reform demonstrators and police soon turned violent, precisely what government officials claimed they sought to avoid by banning the demonstrations.
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government declared the demonstration illegal and the police sealed off parts of the capital in advance, warning individuals who participated in demonstrations that they would face “stern action”.
Nevertheless, tens of thousands of demonstrators tried to reach independence stadium, the site of Malaysia’s declaration of independence from Britain over 50 years ago, from various parts of the capital, chanting “Long live the people” and carrying yellow balloons and flowers as they marched.
Police arrested over 1,000 people in Operation Erase Bersih, referring to the Bersih coalition the group that organised the rally, several senior opposition officials were arrested.
Ambiga Sreenavasan, head of the Bersih coalition, stated that the suppression of the protests had “stirred a sense of outrage against the exhibition of raw power by our government… what is the necessity for a show of might against right? No matter what, right will always prevail.”
Police fired numerous rounds of tear gas and chemical-laced water in repeated attempts to disperse the crowds. Witnesses claim police armed with batons charged at some protesters and dragged them into trucks.
Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, stated, “We were attacked from both corners but what was horrifying is that the police shot directly at the protesters, some of them clearly aimed at me personally, so my security assistants had to cover me and one was badly injured because the canister was shot direct, he is badly injured,” Anwar told the Associated Press news agency. “This is a simple portrayal of the extent of desperation of brutal action approved by the Prime Minister Najib.”
More than 200 activists have been arrested nationwide in the past two weeks for trying to promote the rally.
The demonstration organizers called for reforms following accusations that the Malaysian election commission is biased towards the ruling coalition, which has been in power since independence from Britain in 1957. The commission has denied the accusations.