Nov 25, 2007

Malaysian police fire tear gas at ethnic Indian protesters: witnesses

Al-Jazeera News Report

This is so called democracy in Malaysia.

(AFP) KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian police fired tear gas at ethnic Indian protesters rallying here Sunday in support of a four trillion dollar lawsuit that blames Britain for their economic problems, witnesses said.

At least 8,000 protesters defied a ban and pushed their way towards the British High Commission (embassy) despite a heavy security presence.

Police used water cannon on the crowd that had gathered from around the country despite a police blockade since Thursday.

"Over the last 50 years Indian have been marginalised in this country and we now want the same rights as enjoyed by other communities," M. Kulasegaran, opposition lawmaker with the Democratic Action Party, told AFP.

"They have no rights to stop us from protesting today. This is the will of the people," he said.

The lawsuit targets Britain, Malaysia's former colonial ruler, and is aimed at highlighting what ethnic Indians there say is continuing discrimination.

It seeks four trillion dollars' compensation for the estimated two million ethnic Indians whose ancestors were brought here as indentured labourers by Britain in the 1800s.

The gathering is organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf). Three of their leaders were arrested on Friday under the Sedition Act and later freed on bail but one preferred to remain in jail.

The activists are also demanding the government boost the social and economic standards of minority Hindus, who make up the third largest community in Malaysia.

The government banned the rally, fearing it could spark racial violence and warned that anyone who participated would be detained.

Demonstrators condemned the tough police action and said that they would not be not silenced. At least a dozen protesters had been arrested, witnesses said.

"This act of police violence must stop. We are here to protest peacefully. We intend to march and hand over the petition to the British mission," A. Sivanesan, a lawyer acting for Hindraf, said.

N. Vijayan, 40, an engineer, said the Indian community had been marginalised for too long.

"This demonstration should be a wake-up call for the government that we are really upset with its policies," he said.

Ethnic Indians, mainly Tamils, account for eight percent of Malaysia's population. A large proportion lack skills, money and education.

Forming 60 percent of the nation's 27 million people, ethnic Malay Muslims make up the majority group, while 26 percent are Chinese. Malaysia won its independence from Britain 50 years ago.

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