ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
February 17, 2008
Minority ethnic Indians rallied on Saturday for equal rights in Malaysia, a predominantly Malay-Muslim country, ahead of a national election in three weeks, A Kyodo news report said.
About 300 Indians, some sporting orange T-shirts with the slogan, “Makkal Sakthi” or "people's power" in Tamil, gathered outside city hall in downtown Kuala Lumpur bearing banners that read, "How is our future going to be?" and "Abolish ISA," while chanting "people power."
The rally was organized by the Hindu Rights Action Force or Hindraf, a new grass-roots movement that grabbed headlines following its massive street protests in November that attracted tens of thousands of Indian supporters from across the country.
The November rally resulted in the detention of five Hindraf leaders for two years under the Internal Security Act or ISA which allows indefinite detention without trial.
Hindraf is fighting for an end to racial discrimination from the government which accords the majority populace, the ethnic Malays, special privileges ranging from government contracts to cheaper housing.
Hindraf originally planned to march to parliament, about 1 kilometer away, with gifts of roses to "show their love" to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and to appeal to him to heed their cry.
"The yellow roses are a symbol of our cry for justice. We seek the immediate release of Hindraf's five leaders," the group said in a statement before Saturday's rally. "We are going to parliament as it is a symbol of justice."
But the road to parliament was sealed off by police who deemed the rally illegal.
By law, any gathering of more than five people needs a police permit or those participating risk being fined or jailed. Hindraf applied for a permit but was rejected on the grounds it would cause a public nuisance and a threat to security.
The police fired water cannons and tear gas at the crowd. Kuala Lumpur Police Chief Muhammad Sabtu Osman said that 160 supporters were detained but all were later released except nine.
"He's an arrogant leader who does not want to face the Indians. We come to show our love for him," Hindraf leader R.S. Thanendran said of Abdullah. "He will not get the Indian votes...I say throw away this government. They are pretentious...don't show any care for the Indians."
Abdullah is seeking a second term in the election of the House of Representatives on March 8 amid a dip in his popularity due to rising ethnic tension.