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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Indians take to KL streets against discrimination

Nov 26, 2007
Indians take to KL streets against discrimination
By Chow Kum Hor, Malaysia Correspondent


COMMUNITY ANGER: Protesters running away from tear gas as riot police broke up the rally in KL yesterday.

KUALA LUMPUR - MALAYSIA'S Indian community staged its biggest anti-government street protest yesterday when thousands of demonstrators defied tear gas and water cannons to hit out against racial discrimination.
For six hours, riot police fought running battles with more than 5,000 Hindu protesters gathered at various places for the banned rally in Kuala Lumpur.

Many held posters of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi and waved identity cards and Malaysian flags to show they were also Malaysians, as they demanded equal rights.

The protests took place at several locations near the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.

The gathering was organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), ostensibly in support of a suit it filed against Britain in August claiming US$4 trillion (S$5.77 trillion) for the suffering of Indians, whose ancestors were taken to Malaysia by the British as indentured labourers 150 years ago.

But Hindraf said the protest was also aimed at expressing Indians' anger towards the Malaysian government.

Organiser P. Uthaya Kumar said: 'They are frustrated and have no job opportunities in the government or the private sector.'

He said Malaysian Indians had been further incensed by the recent demolition of illegally built Hindu temples.

Much of the anger relates to Malaysia's bumiputera policy, which is to give the Malays an economic leg-up.

Opposition lawmaker M. Kulasegaran said: 'Over the past 50 years, Indians have been marginalised in this country, and we now want the same rights as enjoyed by other communities.'

The Indians are the third largest group after the Malays and Chinese. The rally is politically embarrassing for the government as it is the first time that minority Hindus have hit the streets in protest.

It was the second crackdown this month on an anti-government demonstration, following a 10,000-strong Nov 10 march calling for electoral reforms.

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi yesterday defended police action. Speaking to reporters in Kampala at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, he also warned those trying to test the government's patience.

'Don't abuse the freedom that has been given to you,' he said, adding that those who took part would be punished.

Earlier, the most senior Indian in government, Works Minister S. Samy Vellu, said he was 'aware of issues and problems confronting the Indian community', but said that 'street protest was not the answer'.

kumhor@sph.com.sg

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FROM REUTERS, ASSOCIATED PRESS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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