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 Ethnic Indians in Malaysia demonstrate

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PostSubject: Ethnic Indians in Malaysia demonstrate   Mon Dec 10, 2007 10:14 am

Malaysia's police fire tear gas, water cannons on ethnic Indian demonstrators

The Associated Press, November 24, 2007

Police used tear gas and water cannons Sunday to crush a banned rally by more than 10,000 ethnic minority Indians a rare street clash that exposed Muslim-majority Malaysia's deep racial divisions.

Slogan-shouting protesters hurled water bottles and stones at police, who chased them through streets surrounding the famous Petronas Twin Towers and doused them repeatedly with tear gas and chemical-laced water for more than eight hours.

Police said that 241 people had been detained, but that nearly half of them were released after authorities recorded their personal information. Four policemen were injured, the federal police headquarters said in a statement, but there was no immediate estimate for injuries among protesters.

The rally rooted in complaints that the ethnic Malay Muslim-dominated government discriminates against minorities was the largest protest in at least a decade involving ethnic Indians, the country's second-largest minority population after ethnic Chinese. The ethnic Indians are generally the most underprivileged.

"This gathering is unprecedented," said protest leader P. Uthayakumar. "This is a community that can no longer tolerate discrimination."

It was the second such street protest in Kuala Lumpur this month. A Nov. 10 rally that drew thousands of people demanding electoral reforms was also broken up with similar force, but lasted only a few hours.

Street demonstrations are extremely rare among the multiple ethnic groups in Malaysia, which prides itself on its communal and political stability. The two protests indicate that Malaysians are becoming bolder about venting their frustrations publicly against a political system that concentrates power and influence in the hands of the Malay ruling elite.

The latest rally was meant to support a US$4 trillion (2.7 trillion) lawsuit filed in London in August by the Hindu Rights Action Force, a Malaysian rights group, demanding that Britain compensate Malaysian Indians for bringing their ancestors to the country as "indentured laborers" and exploiting them.

Ethnic Indians say discrimination continued after Malaysia's independence in 1957 because of an affirmative action policy favoring Malays, who form about 60 percent of the country's 27 million people. Ethnic Chinese, who comprise a quarter of the population, have expressed similar complaints.

Activists say more than two-thirds of ethnic Indians, who are mostly Hindu and constitute about 8 percent of the population, live in poverty, with many trapped in a cycle of alcoholism and crime.

Samy Vellu, the government's top ethnic Indian politician, denounced the latest protest as "an opposition ploy to smear the government's image."

"We do not support street demonstrations," Samy said in a statement. "We have been working within the system to resolve the problems faced by the Indian community."

On Sunday, thousands of ethnic Indians some carrying pictures of India's independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi and banners that read "We want our rights" gathered before dawn near the Petronas towers.

Thousands more massed in Batu Caves, a Hindu temple in a limestone cave on the city's outskirts, hoping to join the others in a march to the British High Commission.

"If they push us against the wall, we don't know what will happen," demonstrator Lingam Suppiah said. "The day must come when the time bomb will explode. We cannot be patient forever."

Police had obtained an unprecedented court order prohibiting the public from rallying. On Friday, three of the Hindu group's leaders were arrested and charged with sedition.

Malaysia has maintained racial peace since 1969, when some 200 people were killed in riots sparked by Malay frustration over the economic clout of Chinese. The violence spurred the creation of programs that give Malays privileges in government jobs, contracts and education.

Associated Press reporter Sean Yoong contributed to this report.
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