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CHAOS IN THE CITY AS BERSIH CROWD TURNS VIOLENT
KUALA LUMPUR: THE rally demanding a free and fair election yesterday turned chaotic after several demonstrators became unruly and violent.
Bersih co-chairman Datuk S. Ambiga said the committee was sorry for the untoward incidents and would issue a full response next week.
At a press conference, she also acknowledged that police showed plenty of restraint until a court order was defied by the protesters.
The situation became tense after supporters of Bersih 3.0 broke through the barricades surrounding Dataran Merdeka, ignoring the court order and forcing police to use tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowd.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, speaking in Kuching later, said the whole event was about painting the government in a bad light.
“We knew what they had in mind and that was why we offered them Stadium Merdeka but they refused,” he said.
“They wanted Dataran Merdeka (because) they know the importance of that place. They know we will defend Dataran Merdeka. They wanted a confrontation with the police and to make the people angry with the government. “That’s their whole intention,” Najib said, adding that at the end of the day, “it’s all about politics”.
“It’s about power grab. It’s about trying to gain Putrajaya. It’s not about free and fair elections. They know elections are free and fair in this country,” Najib said.
Earlier, when opening the Jelajah Janji Ditepati carnival in Petra Jaya, the prime minister said citizens now had a right to assemble peacefully and take part in demonstrations as long as they did not trouble others.
Najib said Barisan Nasional need not win elections through fraud, as they were better leaders with a clearer agenda for the country’s future.
The demonstration planned by Bersih, a coalition of 84 non-governmental organisations, started on a peaceful note earlier but turned chaotic when supporters defied a court order and tried to force their way into Dataran Merdeka.
Ambiga, while addressing the supporters at Jalan Tun Perak, told them not to defy the court order and disperse but Bernama reported that further up the road earlier, Parti Keadilan Rakyat adviser and opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had allegedly urged them to proceed to Dataran Merdeka “come what may”.
Many felt that Bersih’s fight for a free and clean election was hijacked by the opposition, who took control of proceedings yesterday, causing street violence, vandalism and total chaos in the city centre.
The five hours of violence and madness crippled parts of the city centre. Several policemen, newsmen and protesters were also injured in the process.
In the mayhem, unconfirmed reports stated that a traffic policeman had his gun snatched, but the weapon was later found and returned to the police.
Photographic and video evidence showed policemen being assaulted and their vehicles damaged by angry mobs. Cases of widespread vandalism were also reported.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said police dealt with the rowdy protesters professionally despite the extreme provocation.
He also expressed sadness that the demonstration turned unruly although the government had done its best to allow the demonstrators to gather peacefully.
As at 9pm last night, 469 demonstrators were arrested and taken to the Police Training Centre (Pulapol) in Jalam Semarak for documentation before they were released. Clean-up operations were ongoing.
The rally organisers had wanted to hold the sit-in protest at Dataran Merdeka but following concerns raised by taxi drivers and business operators in the area, and the fact that Dataran Merdeka was a historical site, City Hall denied their request.