Malaysian PM defends crackdown on protesters



Kuala Lumpur: Facing criticism for police crackdown on opposition-backed protesters in Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak on Sunday defended the government's handling of the demonstrations, saying "we dislike chaos".

Najib also accused opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim for masterminding the protest to drum up support for his political aspirations.

People came out in large numbers yesterday for the opposition-backed rally to bring pressure on Najib's long ruling coalition to usher in electoral reforms and more transparency ahead of national polls early next year.

Police fired tear gas and detained more than 1,600 people during the protest.

Addressing more than 6000 supporters here, Najib lashed out at Anwar, saying he is prepared to sacrifice his principles to achieve his dream of becoming prime minister.

He accused Anwar of masterminding the protest march held by NGO Bersih 2.0, the opposition coalition and called him an opportunist.

He described the Bersih (meaning clean in Malay language) rally as a desperate plan by Anwar to manipulate the people to gain their support.

Najib said Anwar's position was affected by the growing support of the people for the government following the various economic development policies that had been implemented.

"He knows that if he does not do anything, we (the ruling coalition of Barisan Nasional) will win in the 13th general election.

"This is the last chance for him. When people know that this is their last chance, they will do everything, good or bad," he said.

Najib dismissed claims of police brutality during the protest and said police personnel had used minimum force when acting against the demonstrators.

"We dislike chaos. We like peace. We like a country where the people live in harmony," he said.

On reports that a person had died during the protests, the Prime Minister said it had happened because of a pre-existing medical condition.

Acting city police chief Amar Singh confirmed that Baharuddin Ahmad, who was in his 50s, died after complaining of chest pains.

The Prime Minister said Anwar deliberately wanted to bring down the country's image.

He appealed to all not to make demonstrations a part of Malaysian culture.

"We are peace-loving citizens who want to live in peace and harmony, and want to live in a country that has a bright future," he said.

Najib said the police and the Attorney-General's Chambers will decide whether to press charges against organisers of yesterday's rally.

Meanwhile, Bersih 2.0 chief Ambiga Sreenevasan said the movement will look into getting a Royal Commission of Inquiry into electoral reforms.

As for the rally yesterday, she said it was mission accomplished as the huge turnout "showed the people wanted a clean election". Ambiga was among the more than 1600 who were detained by police yesterday and later released.

Fellow Bersih committee member K Arumugam said the group would make another attempt to hand over their memorandum detailing their demands to the King at his palace.

Organsing protests and demonstrations is illegal in Malaysia and any gathering of more than five persons in public needs a police permit.

PTI