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Malaysian opposition denounces onslaught against protesters

November 6, 2000
Web posted at: 8:39 PM HKT (1239 GMT)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- Opposition leaders and rights activists on Monday condemned police for mounting a heavy-handed operation against thousands of demonstrators who jammed a major expressway while traveling to Malaysia's largest pro-democracy rally this year.

Authorities arrested at least 119 people Sunday and showered tear gas and chemical-laced water on slogan-chanting protesters who blocked roads linking Kuala Lumpur, the capital, to a neighboring state.

Police held the 118 men and one woman overnight, said Suhaida Kasri, a lawyer who is defending the jailed activists. A judge allowed police to detain those who were uninjured for five days pending arraignment, opposition leaders said.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said the opposition had invited police action by staging the illegal rally attended by 5,000 supporters of Mahathir's former deputy, Anwar Ibrahim.

Mahathir, whose reputation has been rattled since he fired his protege in September 1998, insisted that the government would not allow a retrial for Anwar, who is serving prison terms until 2014 for corruption and sodomy.

"Our laws are clear and we fully abide by the law," Malaysia's leader of 19 years was quoted as saying by the national news agency, Bernama.

Opposition leaders and international rights groups have criticized Malaysia's judiciary for the two prolonged Anwar trials, which many say ignored crucial flaws in the prosecution's case. The opposition alleges that Mahathir engineered a government conspiracy to frame Anwar and prevent his political ascent.

Norian Mai, Malaysia's police chief, described Sunday's rally as an "inconvenience" and claimed he was satisfied with how authorities handled the protesters.

But opposition leaders who spoke at the gathering insisted that police used unnecessary force.

"There was no need for aggressive action against what was a peaceful pro-democracy rally," said Lim Kit Siang, leader of the Democratic Action Party, one of four opposition groups which have joined forces to oppose Mahathir.

Suaram, a local human rights group, said the police onslaught was "an overreaction" and alleged that many of those arrested had been injured.

Anwar's younger brother, Rosli Ibrahim, claimed their cousin had been hospitalized in intensive care after being hit in the head by a tear gas canister.

"The doctors say his skull was cracked. Half of his face is swollen and he is coughing up blood," Rosli said.

Rosli, who said he visited some of the detainees Monday, claimed that police had not given them any food since their arrest a day earlier.

On Sunday, police also seized cameras and film from several news photographers who shot pictures of the scuffles. A policeman sustained head injuries after he was attacked by protesters, local media reported.

Over the past year, Malaysia's powerful police force has blocked all opposition protests by first casting them as illegal and then deploying riot guards to break up even the smallest gatherings.


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