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Drama in Malaysia's House, more opposition leaders held

Contributed by Anonymous on Wednesday, December 12 @ 07:24:21 CST

National: Politics
Nazry Bahrawi in Kuala Lumpur
nazry@mediacorp.com.sg
DRAMA erupted both inside and outside Malaysia's Parliament House yesterday, as Bersih protesters attempted to infiltrate the building while 15 opposition parliamentarians staged a walkout to protest a fresh series of arrests.


Members of polls reform group Bersih wanted to submit a memorandum of protest in the morning against a government-backed bill to extend the retirement age of the chief of Malaysia's Election Commission.
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Despite the presence of more than 400 police officers at checkpoints and roadblocks leading up to the Dewan Rakyat (Malaysia's House of Representatives), the protesters persisted in proceeding. Some were arrested for defying a restriction order issued on Monday — but six activists managed to slip past the heavy security cordon by catching a ride in the vehicles of opposition parliamentarians.
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After they handed the memo to opposition legislators for submission to Parliament, the six were arrested by plainclothes policemen as they left the building.
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Yesterday's incidents were the latest in the government's showdown with its critics, who have organised a series of demonstrations involving thousands and sent ripples across the nation. Last month, Bersih — a coalition of 67 non-governmental organisations and five opposition groups — held a rally that drew more than 30,000 protesters, while activists from the Hindu Rights Action Force organised an anti-discrimination demonstration involving 8,000 people.
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Yesterday — after Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi had on Monday declared he was willing to sacrifice public freedom to maintain national security — police arrested various top opposition leaders, allegedly on charges of illegal assembly. These included Mr Khalid Ibrahim and Mr Tian Chua of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Dr Hatta Ramli and Nuridah Mohd Salleh of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and Dr Nasir Hashim and S Arutchelvan of Parti Sosialis Malaysia.
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A leader and legal advisor of Hindraf, Mr P Uthayakumar, was also arrested and charged with sedition.
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Meanwhile, former deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said he was held for an hour at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on his return from a trip to Turkey. He was told he was on a "suspect list".
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Said Mr Anwar, the de facto leader of opposition group Keadilan: "In the last three days, the authorities have increased their repressive tactics against Malaysian citizens and arrested key opposition figures and civil rights leaders … a sign that (Mr Abdullah's) leadership of Malaysia has run its course."
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Assistant police commissioner Sofian Yasin told Today: "We are not here to arrest people, but to ensure public safety."
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The six Bersih activists who got into parliament were released after four hours, along with three others including Mr Khalid of Keadilan. Another 15 remained in custody.
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Executive director Yap Swee Seng of human rights group Suaram told Today: "They didn't take any statements from us. They just recorded our particulars and told us that they would not press charges." He called the heavy police pressure a "mockery" of Malaysia's democracy.
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Meanwhile, in the Dewan Rakyat, 15 MPs from PAS and the Democratic Action Party (DAP) staged a walkout five minutes before proceedings were to be concluded by Mr Abdullah, in a protest against the morning's arrests.
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"We feel there is no point debating further on the Bill when the arrests have nullified our freedom of expression both in and outside the Parliament House," Mr Kula Segaran of DAP was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini.
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The United States reiterated its call to Malaysia to allow the freedom of expression and assembly.
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"We have repeatedly raised with Malaysian authorities our belief that citizens of any country should be allowed to peacefully assemble and express their views," US State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck said. — Additional reports from agencies

 
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