25 November, 2007

Hindraf - Ethnic Indians protest in Malaysia-update

Ethnic Indians protest in Malaysia

HINDRAF Rally, Kuala Lumpur 25/11/2007

Indian protest rocks Malaysia ahead of polls

Malaysia's ethnic Indian community staged its biggest anti-government street protest on Sunday when more than 10,000 protesters defied tear gas and water cannon to voice complaints of racial discrimination.

The sheer size of the protest, called by a Hindu rights group, represents a political challenge for the government as it heads toward possible early elections in the next few months.

"Malaysian Indians have never gathered in such large numbers in this way...," said organizer P. Uthaya Kumar, of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf).

"They are frustrated and have no job opportunities in the government or the private sector. They are not given business licenses or places in university," he said, adding that Indians were also incensed by some recent demolitions of Hindu temples.Police fired tear gas outside Kuala Lumpur's iconic twin towers and five-star hotels. Curious tourists ventured out to take a look but rushed back inside once the gas stung their eyes.

Political columnist Zainon Ahmad said the protest would shake the Indian community's establishment party, the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), a junior member of the ruling coalition.

"The MIC is severely challenged on this matter," he said.

MIC leader S. Samy Vellu, who is also works minister, denied the protest spelt trouble for his party. "We represent the Indian community and will remain so," he said in a statement.

But Vellu, who has himself voiced unease over a recent Hindu temple demolition by local authorities outside the capital, added: "There is still a lot to be done for the Indians and we will continue with our struggle."
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RIGHTS-MALAYSIA: Ethnic Indians on the Warpath

Malaysia’s Hindus -- mostly Tamil descendents of 19th century labourers -- on Sunday ignored warnings by Prime Minister Abdul Badawi and braved tear gas and police batons to protest alleged official discrimination and demand a fair share of the national wealth.

Their street demonstration, the first on this large scale since independence in 1957, shut down the city centre that is overlooked by the gleaming Twin Towers, the capital’s famed landmark.

"By protesting in large numbers we have shown that we are not cowed," said lawyer P. Uthayakumar, a key leader in HINDRAF. "The government cannot ignore us anymore. We are a force to reckon with," he told IPS between dodging tear gas canisters. He added that HINDRAF will step up its protest to fight for justice, mostly for poorly paid labourers in factories and giant plantation companies who are forced to compete with at least three million foreign workers for low-paying jobs.

An economic slowdown, rising food and fuel prices and competition for jobs has hurt the Indians harder than other races, including the majority Malays and the Chinese who control much of the business.

Opposition lawmakers condemned the excessive use of force against people who only want to voice their grievances in a peaceful manner.

"This excessive use of power is completely unjustified," said opposition leader Lim Kit Siang in a statement. "I hold Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi personally responsible for the injuries people suffered. The people will show their rejection of violence in the upcoming polls."

Ethnic Indians, who make up about eight percent of the population of 26 million, complain that majority Malays, using unchecked political power, have kept for themselves employment, education and business opportunities.

"We have been deprived ...we want our fair share," Uthayakumar said. "Not only are we deprived but our temples are destroyed, our schools neglected and our people suffer from terrible neglect."

Officials ignore such arguments saying all communities get a fair share. But the complaints have found a receptive audience among the long suffering Tamil masses.

Read more here.

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