Sunday, August 2, 2009

Malaysia cracks down on protesters in Kuala Lumpur

Word from Malaysia is that the new government of Prime Minister Najib Razak has launched a crackdown on protesters in the capital who were rallying for the repeal of a law that permits the government to hold people indefinitely without charge. Nearly 600 people were arrested at the rally, which was organized by opposition parties and attracted upwards of 20,000 protesters, according to the New York Times. It was the largest demonstration in Malaysia in two years, the Times said. The crackdown was a keen disappointment to opposition leaders, who had hoped for relaxed enforcement of the Internal Security Act by the new government. Najib had raised those hopes since promising to respect civil rights and releasing 13 political detainees held without trial since taking office four months ago. Najib also had gotten praise from business leaders by relaxing a racial-preference system that had riled the country's minority populations, the Times said. But such liberalization seemed illusory Saturday as thousands of police officers using tear gas and water cannons broke up the massive rally. “We can provide them stadiums where they can shout themselves hoarse till dawn, but don’t cause disturbance in the streets,” Najib told the Malaysian news media on Sunday, the Times said. The ruling party has long been intolerant of street protests, and opposition leaders charged that Najib was reverting to the policies of previous administrations despite his rhetoric. In fact, the Times said, former Health Minister Chua Jui Meng left the ruling party in protest last month, saying Najib was "an iron fist behind the velvet glove." And on Sunday, opposition politician Lim Kit Siang wrote in his blog that the "greatest violators of human rights are often the police and the law enforcement agencies," the Times said. More than 1,500 people died in police custody between 2003 and 2007, according to the Malaysian Home Ministry, the Times said.

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