07 May, 2009

The Farce continues

PR Assemblymen(in white) trying to prevent Sivakumar(centre)
from removed from the chamber by the Sergeant-at-Army and
special branch officers. ( Image from Sun2surf)

Rival lawmakers scuffled in a Malaysian state parliament until police dragged the legislature's speaker out of the hall, as hundreds of activists outside protested the ruling coalition's takeover of the state's assembly.

Pandemonium ensued as lawmakers from both sides clambered over their tables, shoving each other. Plainclothes policemen eventually dragged the ousted speaker out of the hall, ending a standoff that caused a speech by the state's crown prince to be delayed by six hours.

Outside, several hundred opposition supporters, many wearing black shirts or bandanas, defied police and gathered in restaurants and shops near the legislature, evading road blocks and barbed wire meant to cordon off the building in Ipoh, Perak's capital.

Riot police arrested at least 65 people, including five opposition members of the national parliament, and seized hundreds of black T-shirts on sale at a stall near a small mosque. Some of those detained were released after several hours. The opposition has urged supporters to wear black as a mark of protest.

Veteran opposition leader Lim Kit Siang criticized authorities for turning the area into what he called "a war zone," saying it was "most shameful and outrageous."

Police say the protest is illegal and have secured a court order forbidding people to gather near the building.

Some protesters shouted, "Give the people back their rights!" and scuffled with police.

Police had arrested two protest organizers Wednesday in hopes of scuttling the protest.

Human rights group Amnesty International criticized what it called a crackdown on dissent, saying authorities "have arrested people merely for expressing their political views or gathering peacefully to protest government actions."

However, International Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed defended the police action, saying "they know what's best to be done."

"If any country is seen to be unstable, that would not be so good. Peace and stability are important for Malaysians and investors," Mustapa told reporters.

"What happened in the assembly was a mockery of the Malaysian democratic system," Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in the country's administrative capital of Putrajaya.



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