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KUALA LUMPUR: Police fired tear gas and water cannon only after Bersih 3.0 supporters broke through the barricades along Jalan Raja during Saturday’s gathering which descended into chaos and violence.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar said he had earlier ordered his men not to engage the crowd, but just to observe them, give way and direct them away from Dataran Merdeka.
“But the crowd was instigated by several individuals to force their way past the barricades.
At that point, we had no alternative but to disperse them with tear gas and water cannon,” he said yesterday at the Bukit Aman federal police headquarters.
Reporters, including from foreign media, were then showed video clips of the crowd standing in front of the barricades and then breaking through after being instigated by several individuals.
The video showed a man using a loudhailer, speaking to a politician before telling the crowd to break through.
Another clip showed the crowd breaking through a line of policemen near KLCC in Jalan Ampang. Policemen were overheard telling each other to let them through.
A third clip showed a police car being attacked by the crowd near the Sogo shopping centre before it crashed into a wall.
The clip also showed the crowd overturning the car.
“We are investigating these individuals,” Ismail said.
On the violence against journalists, Ismail promised a fair investigation. He said if any of his men had acted out of line, disciplinary action would be taken.
Earlier reports stated that at least seven newsmen and 12 policemen were injured in the chaos.
“I have directed investigations to be carried out as fast as possible, as reports have been lodged by police personnel and also by those who claimed they were assaulted by policemen.”
At this juncture, reporters bombarded Ismail with allegations of strong-arm tactics employed by police in seizing cameras and memory cards of journalists.
He said “it is not standard operating procedure to seize equipment belonging to journalists”.
The IGP then slammed Bersih 3.0 organisers for failing to keep their promise that the gathering would be a peaceful event.
“The street demonstration was certainly not in the spirit of the Peaceful Assembly Act. Dataran Merdeka had been cordoned off for a reason.
“My men had shown complete restraint and professionalism. The barricades, made up of cones and barbed wires, had been erected as the last line of defence.”
Ismail said if police had not used water cannon and tear gas, the situation would have been worse.
Asked whether the chaos could have been avoided had Bersih 3.0 been allowed to stage a sit-in at Dataran Merdeka, Ismail replied the same question could be applied to having the sit-in at the stadiums proposed as an alternative venue.
“Under the Peaceful Assembly Act, the crowd is allowed to gather, but marching is illegal.
“The organisers of Saturday’s gathering should take responsibility for their actions.
“A fair and thorough investigation will be carried out into allegations of police brutality besides the probe against those directly and indirectly involved in Saturday’s chaos.”
National Union of Journalists general secretary V. Anbalagan said it was improper for police to investigate when they were the ones accused of high-handedness against journalists.
“The investigations should be carried out by an independent committee as it will lend credibility to the outcome of the findings.”