Saturday, February 16, 2008

Malaysia police fire teargas at flower protest: witnesses

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5jZ9jlQFbr5JLyVvd-f-d7cmhumXA
4 hours ago
KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Malaysian police Saturday fired teargas and water cannons to disperse ethnic Indians clutching flowers and gathered in the capital, in the latest crackdown on public protests, witnesses said.
Some 300 people defied a police ban and attempted to gather in Independence Square in downtown Kuala Lumpur to protest alleged discrimination, before police moved in, an AFP correspondent witnessed.
"It is an embarrassing attack on the Indian community and on people who just wanted to hand over flowers to the prime minister," said R. Thanenthiran, one of the rally organisers.
The flower protest is the latest in a series of demonstrations in recent that have rocked the multicultural nation, which is now gearing up for general elections on March 8.
More than 20 people were detained, police said, after supporters of Indian rights group Hindraf turned up near Dataran Merdeka or Independence Square. Police had earlier refused a permit for the gathering.
Indian youths dressed in saffron coloured t-shirts with the Tamil words "Makkal Sakti", or People's Power, chanted slogans calling for justice and an end to alleged discrimination against ethnic Indians in the country.
More than 200 police approached the crowd before spraying them with water cannons and firing tear gas shells above their heads, the AFP correspondent witnessed.
"We wanted to have 200 children also peacefully give Abdullah flowers but we were tear-gassed and water-cannoned by police," Thanenthiran said, referring to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Thanenthiran said organisers decided it was unsafe for the children to take part in the protest and they were bused away from the scene.
"We came with a gesture of peace and love and the Malaysian government did not have the courage to accept the roses," Hindraf chairman P. Waythamoorthy told AFP. Prime minister Abdullah had not indicated before the protest that he would accept the flowers.
The protest comes after the detention of five Hindraf leaders who enraged the government in November by leading a mass rally protesting alleged discrimination against minority Indians.
The protest highlighted the grievances of Malaysia's Indians -- descendents of labourers brought over by British colonial rulers in the 1800s -- who say they are marginalised in terms of education, wealth and opportunities.
Abdullah has said that street protests and anger within the Indian community could have an impact on how the government fares in the general elections.
Abdullah is head of the United Malays National Organisation-led coalition government of race-based parties that have ruled Malaysia since it gained its independence from British rule in 1957.
Although Abdullah's party is expected to win the March election, analysts say a slew of issues including rising prices, corruption and religious as well as racial tensions could cut the government's majority in parliament.
Ethnic Indians make up 7 percent of Malaysia's 27 million population with Malay Muslims forming 60 percent and ethnic Chinese at 26 percent.

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