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March 16, 2008

Police arrest activists protesting rising inflation

Dr Chee Soon Juan
Dr Chee Soon Juan,
Secretary General,
Singapore Democratic Party


Singapore police arrested at least 10 political activists Saturday who staged a rare demonstration against the government's response to rising inflation, Kyodo news agency reported.

Nearly 30 people took part in the protest by the Singapore Democratic Party in front of Parliament House, making it one of the largest demonstrations recently in Singapore, where street protests political are illegal without police approval.

Led by the party's Secretary General Chee Soon Juan, a former university lecturer who has become one of the government's most vociferous critics, the demonstrators were wearing red shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Cannot stand it anymore."

They carried placards and chanted, "No more price hikes, no more exploitation, no more repression, take care of our poor."

They accused the city-states high-salaried Cabinet ministers of being out of touch with the plight of lower income Singaporeans.

"We want to draw attention to these unbearable price hikes," said Chee in front of the parliament house. "Our objective is to continue to encourage Singaporeans to speak up."

After Chee and other senior party members refused police orders to disperse and tried to continue their march, a scuffle with the police ensued.

At least 10 protesters were hauled up, some struggling and kicking, into three waiting police vans and taken away, amid curious stares from dozens of passers-by who had gathered near the site.

Chee earlier said his application in November last year to stage the protest had been rejected by the police but he decided to go ahead with it anyway. "The important thing is to give Singaporeans a voice so that they can stand up for themselves," he said.

The inflation rate has been creeping up due to a global rise in food prices and last July's hike in the country's consumption tax from 5 percent to 7 percent. Singapore's annual inflation rate hit a 25-year high of 6.6 percent in January with food prices rising 5.8 percent in that month from a year earlier.

The Trade and Industry Ministry has projected that Singapore's inflation rate, which has hovered between 1 and 2 percent in recent years, is expected to rise to between 4.5 percent and 5.5 percent this year.

Singapore defends its strict laws on public assembly citing the need for public order and safety.

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