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Jan 26, 2008

The leadership is paranoid, there's no democracy

Malaysian police detain dozens of protesters

Malaysian police on Saturday detained dozens of people including a journalist at the capital's iconic Petronas Twin Towers, as they clamped down on an anti-government protest.

Up to 50 people, including many from opposition parties, were hauled away in police trucks. As they were driven off some shouted "Reformasi" or "Reform" which was the catchcry of dissident former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.

The protest -- the latest in an unprecedented series of street rallies -- had been aimed at highlighting public anger over rising prices of food and fuel, ahead of elections expected to be held in March.

Police, who had warned the protest was illegal, turned out in their hundreds to disperse the gathering of about 100 people at the Twin Towers, which were barricaded and under heavy guard.

"We're not causing any problems, we're just saying that prices are going up and the poor are hurting," Socialist Party of Malaysia chairman Mohamed Nasir told AFP before he was taken away by police.

"The leadership is paranoid, there's no democracy," he said.

The detained journalist was from Malaysiakini, a news website which is one of the few independent media organisations in the country and whose offices were raided by the government in 2003.

"I'm definitely disturbed by this. It shows that police are not respecting the rights of journalists to do their job," said Malaysiakini's editor in chief Steven Gan.

"They should have released him as soon as he identified himself as a journalist," he told AFP.

Police refused to say why the reporter, who had been asking an officer for information, was taken away. The government has refused to give Malaysiakini staff the press pass which journalists need to access official events.

Puzzled tourists milled on the edges of the protest, watching the riot police who stood in formation as a helicopter buzzed overhead.

"It's pretty crazy," said Jon Iliffe, a British businessman on a work trip to Malaysia. "It's a bit strange that they're not allowed to protest and say what they want."

Malaysia's government has been infuriated by the street rallies which began breaking out in November, targeting issues including electoral reform and rights for the nation's ethnic Indians.

In December it detained five ethnic Indian activists under draconian internal security legislation which allows for indefinite detention without trial.


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