Malaysia police block off suburb to stop protest


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, AP

Malaysian police in riot gear and backed by water cannons mounted on trucks sealed off an upmarket Kuala Lumpur suburb with road blocks Saturday to thwart a planned opposition demonstration.

Opposition leaders had expected hundreds of protesters to mass outside Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s house in the Bellamy Road district to demand the release of six opposition supporters jailed without trial for two months.

But scores of police with shields and wearing helmets blocked all streets leading to the area for a radius of about 5 kilometers and stopped all traffic from entering. A police helicopter made passes overhead.

Organizers hastily arranged an alternative site — a car park at a nearby office building — but protesters who began gathering there were met by about 100 police, who gave them 30 minutes to disperse.

“There can be no public gathering here; go away,” Khasni Mohamad Nor, a senior local police officer, told protesters.

Xavier Jayakumar, a spokesman for the opposition National Justice Party, or Keadilan, said police earlier gave permission for a delegation to deliver a petition to Abdullah’s house.

“This show of force by police is totally absurd,” Xavier told The Associated Press. “They are being aggressive. They are using vulgar words on our people.”

Deputy police chief Dell Akhbar Khan said permission to deliver the petition was on condition of there being no crowd of protesters.

About 400 people were allowed to gather in the parking lot to hand in postcards urging the government to release the detainees, who are being held under the tough Internal Security Act. Some carried banners denounced the law, but the gathering was subdued. The protesters dispersed after less than an hour.

Ten opposition activists were arrested in April under the act in what the opposition says was a crackdown ordered by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government to stifle dissent. Police claim the group threatened national security by plotting to topple the government through violent demonstrations.

Abdullah, who is also home minister, a week ago sent four of the detainees to a prison camp for up to two years. Two others are in police custody. The rest of the group have been released _ two on the orders of a judge and two by police, without explanation.

Under the act, police can hold a detainee for 60 days. After that, the home minister can extend the detention with a two-year order. Authorities are not required to bring detainees before a court at any time.

Opposition, human rights and legal groups say the government is abusing its power by using the law against its political opponents. Abdullah said the detentions were to keep the peace.