Demonstrators staged one of Malaysia’s largest countrywide street rallies in years demanding fair rules for the national elections that are expected soon. At least 272 people were detained. Three demonstrators and 20 police were injured in KL.
The 100,000 swamped Kuala Lumpur, attempting to pressure Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition – which has held power for nearly 55 years – to overhaul electoral policies before polls that are likely to be held as early as June.
This is the second straight year police have clashed with participants in a pro-democracy rally organised by the election reform pressure group Bersih. A protest march last year was crushed by police and 1,600 people arrested.
Authorities insist the elections will be free and fair, rejecting activists claims that the Election Commission is biased and that voter registration lists are corrupted.
Authorities had refused to allow an opposition-backed pressure group that organised the rally to use Independence Square. The demonstration had remained peaceful for several hours, prompting organisers to declare it a success and they were asking people to go home but when a small group appeared suddenly to breach police barriers, authorities began firing tear gas and water laced with eye-stinging chemicals.
Hundreds of Malaysians living abroad, and rights activists in cities such as Hong Kong, Auckland and Perth, also staged demonstrations.
In Hong Kong some 400 sympathisers gathered at the Sogo Department Store in Causeway Bay and began making their way to the Malaysian consulate office.
However, Malaysians in Singapore took their protest to the seafront off Johor Baru Waterfront City at 1.30pm, as the Singaporean authorities had denied them a police permit for the rally at Hong Lim Park.
The National Front suffered its worst performance in 2008 elections, when it lost more than a third of Parliament’s seats amid public complaints about corruption and racial discrimination.