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World - Asia/Pacific

Malaysian police arrest dozens in new demonstrations

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Malaysian demonstrators flee as a water cannon is used on them in Kuala Lumpur Saturday  

2,000 rally in support of ousted deputy prime minister

September 26, 1998
Web posted at: 3:44 p.m. EDT (1944 GMT)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) -- Police fired tear gas and used batons and a water cannon on demonstrators Saturday to break up a gathering of about 2,000 rallying downtown in support of an ousted deputy prime minister.

Dozens were arrested for shouting slogans or waving posters in support of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Police kicked some of the protesters, while others were taken to police trucks and beaten, witnesses said.

About 100 riot police brandishing shields and batons marched in a phalanx behind the water cannon truck, forcing protesters to flee from the capital's historic Independence Square.

There were no immediate reports of serious injuries, and police did not comment on the violence.

Such protests -- unheard of in this Southeast Asian nation until recently -- are becoming routine. They started after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad fired Anwar on September 2 and continued after his arrest last Sunday.

An estimated 30,000 protesters gathered last Sunday in Independence Square to call for an end to Mahathir's 17-year rule.

Anwar is accused of various crimes, including unlawful sex acts and leaking state secrets. He has denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated and that his only fault was challenging Mahathir's reign.

Independence Square closed for one week

Standing along barricades Saturday, thousands of people shouted "Reform, reform" and "God is great" as police cordoned off Independence Square.

A demonstrator is arrested by plain-clothes police officers  

Later, city authorities announced that the square, where Malaysia proclaimed its independence from British colonialists in 1957, would be closed for one week.

Mounted police and riot guards also dispersed activists who were shouting "Long live Anwar" near mosques close to the square. The demonstrators regrouped quickly at a different spot.

Police chased protesters through alleys and dispersed one group near a commuter railroad station, the national news agency Bernama reported.

Shopkeepers pulled down their shutters in adjoining areas as the police moved in.

Hundreds of leaflets announcing the protest were distributed at the city's National Mosque at Friday's weekly prayer gathering, which turned into a rally.

World Bank economist says sanctions possible

At least 16 people, many of them governing party members who backed Anwar, are in jail under the Internal Security Act, a British colonial law that allows for imprisonment without trial.

The London-based human rights group, Amnesty International, Friday labeled Anwar and the others detained under the act as "prisoners of conscience" and accused Mahathir of "contravening international legal standards."

The U.S. State Department also has expressed concern about the use of the act to restrict the rights of assembly, free speech and open communication.

Anwar has not been seen since he was marched off by masked riot police on Sunday. Police have not responded to repeated requests for information about him.

Mahathir has routinely blamed the international media for publishing exaggerated reports of demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur. On Saturday, he barred non-Malaysian journalists from his news conference, Bernama reported.

He said negative reporting could lead to other countries imposing sanctions on Malaysia.

In an interview published in Singapore's Straits Times Friday, World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz was quoted as saying that Malaysia could face the same "very strong actions" taken by the world community against South Africa during its apartheid years.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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