10,000 defy Malaysia police, protest detention law
Riot police fired tear gas in a clash with at least 10,000 opposition supporters who marched in Malaysia's main city Saturday to protest a law allowing detention without trial.
The rally in Kuala Lumpur was intended to pressure the government to scrap the Internal Security Act, which provides for indefinite imprisonment of people regarded as security threats.
Thousands of people gathered at the city's main mosque and a shopping mall in defiance of government warnings that police would crack down on demonstrators.
Police fired tear gas and chemical-laced water to disperse the protesters shortly after they began marching toward the national palace. The protesters - who chanted "Reformasi," the opposition's slogan for political change - had planned to submit a petition to the country's king, the constitutional monarch, to denounce the security act.
Witnesses saw police charging with batons at the protesters and scuffling with them. Many people ran into alleys and shops nearby to avoid being arrested.
Before the march started, Kuala Lumpur Police Chief Muhammad Sabtu Osman said 150 people - identified as protesters because they were wearing opposition T-shirts and headbands - had been detained to prevent them from taking part.
Government authorities had warned they would not allow the protest, saying it could undermine public peace.
Authorities had set up roadblocks across Kuala Lumpur to deter the demonstrators from trying to reach the city center, sparking massive traffic crawls. Hundreds of riot police backed by trucks mounted with water cannons stood outside train stations and shopping malls where the demonstrators had arranged to gather.
Restaurants and stores were shuttered on several streets amid concerns of violence.
Prime Minister Najib Razak on Friday urged people not to join the protest. Najib has promised to consider amending the security act, though government officials have repeatedly said it is necessary to safeguard national security.
Human rights groups estimate at least 17 people are being held under the act, mainly for alleged links to militants and document forgery.
Human rights activists have long decried the decades-old act, instituted during the British colonial era, saying it is sometimes used to jail government critics and dampen dissent.
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