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Dec 16, 2007

Activists demand M'sia free Indians held after protests


KUALA LUMPUR - THOUSANDS of activists gathered near a detention camp where Malaysia is holding five leaders of a ethnic Indian group and freed pigeons to demand their freedom, a rights group said on Sunday.

The five leaders were detained under the country's controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) that allows for detention without trial last Thursday.

At least 2,000 activists held prayers in a nearby temple for their early release after police sealed the roads leading to Kemunting camp in the northern Perak state, rights campaigner R.S. Thanenthiran told AFP.

'These people are not terrorists. The government is escaping from the real issue that Indians are marginalised in Malaysia. We demand the immediate release of the detainees,' he said, adding that the protest also aimed to rally support for families of the detainees.

'We released 36 pigeons - five for the ISA detainees and 31 for those in prison awaiting Monday's bail application - as a symbol of freedom for all of them,' he said, noting there were no arrests despite a heavy security presence.

The 31 Indians were arrested after last month's protest outside the famous Batu Caves temple, north of the capital Kuala Lumpur. They face an attempted murder charge against a policeman who allegedly suffered head injuries.

Rights group Hindraf, whom Mr Thanenthiran represents, is pushing for an end to discrimination of minority ethnic Indians in multi-racial Malaysia, which is led by the majority Muslim-Malay government.

The organistation enraged the government last month by mustering at least 8,000 people to the streets of Kuala Lumpur to highlight issues including a lack of economic opportunities and the destruction of Hindu temples.

Police used tear gas, water cannon and baton charges to break up the protests.

Muslim Malays make up 60 per cent of the population and control the government.

Malaysia is also home to ethnic Chinese, who make up 26 percent of the population and dominate business.

Ethnic Indians, who make up 8.0 per cent, complain they run a distant third in terms of wealth, opportunities and education. -- AFP


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