ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Malaysia Sunday rally goes ahead
Rally organisers Bersih 2.0 had agreed to hold Saturday's event at a stadium after complaints that a planned street protest could turn into a riot, but the deal was thrown into confusion after the necessary permit was refused.
Bersih representative Andrew Khoo said there was still no approval for the rally to be held at the capital's iconic Merdeka Stadium but that if necessary they would hold the demonstration outside the building.
"We are heading for the stadium," he told media.
"We will keep our focus on the basic demands... which is to campaign for free and fair elections. We won't be distracted."
Protests are illegal in Malaysia without a permit, and police have over the past two weeks detained more than 150 people, accusing them of drumming up support for the gathering.
Police have also obtained a court order to bar 91 activists from certain downtown areas, and major roads will be closed from early Saturday in a lock-down to make it difficult for people to congregate.
Street protests are rare in Malaysia but in the past they have drawn tens of thousands of people, with police using water cannon, tear gas and baton charges to clear the crowds.
Khoo condemned the police response as a "gross overreaction" and called for the protesters to be allowed inside the stadium to preserve safety.
"It is such a breach of fundamental rights of freedom of movement. There is no risk to public order because we have always maintained this will be a peaceful gathering," he said.
Police have insisted that Bersih choose another venue far from the capital.
"Merdeka Stadium, which they chose, is too close to the city centre and can create massive traffic jams and disrupt businesses," federal police chief Ismail Omar was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times daily.
Most of those detained have been released, but six people, including an opposition member of parliament, have been held under a security law that allows detention without trial.
The protest is backed by opposition parties who complain they are the victim of underhand election tactics.
With national elections due by 2013 but expected to be held earlier, Bersih is demanding reforms including measures to prevent vote-buying and fraud, and equal media access for both the ruling party and opposition.
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