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Malaysian Police Break Up Indian Rally

Saturday, February 16, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia —  Malaysian police fired tear gas Saturday to disperse about 200 ethnic Indians protesting to demand racial equality ahead of a general election.

It was the first public gathering by the Hindu Rights Action Force since police used tear gas and water cannon to crush a Nov. 25 demonstration by at least 20,000 ethnic Indians in Kuala Lumpur.

The country's minority Indians have long complained of racial discrimination in this Malay, Muslim-majority country.

Police detained 124 people Saturday, but all were released except nine who will be charged with participating in an illegal assembly, said Kuala Lumpur police chief Muhammad Sabtu Osman.

The demonstrators did not have a permit to assemble and ignored a police order to disperse, he said in a statement issued on national news agency Bernama. Any gathering of four or more people requires a police permit in Malaysia.

Among those detained was the group's leader, S. Manikavasagam. The organization, known as Hindraf, had sought a police permit but had been turned down.

"This is ridiculous ... We just want to express our right to freely assemble," said Hindraf member N. Surendran. "This is a massive campaign of intimidation."

Ethnic Indians, who make up 8 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people, accuse the Malay-dominated government of depriving them of employment and education opportunities. The Indians, who are predominantly Hindu, also complain of religious discrimination.

The demonstrators jeered at riot police who set up barricades on roads leading to Parliament, where the protesters had planned to deliver roses to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi symbolizing their demands.

"Long Live Hindraf," "We want our rights," the crowd chanted before being chased away by bursts of tear gas and water cannons.

Abdullah condemned the demonstration, saying it was an attempt to create chaos and undermine the March 8 election.

"Those who are out to create trouble do not respect our democracy process," Abdullah was quoted as saying by Bernama.

Abdullah's National Front coalition, which has governed Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957, is expected to easily win the elections, but with a smaller parliamentary majority because of public concerns over inflation, corruption and crime.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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