Apr 30 2012
From the early morning, trains packed with protesters came into central KL; the major roads having been blocked by the police.
Yellow-clad supporters of the Bersih (clean in Malay) pro-democracy movement gathered in several different locations around the city, including outside Central Market. Other smaller rallies were held across Malaysia, and in dozens of locations round the world.
It became quite clear early on that this protest was huge — far bigger than the two previous large Bersih rallies in 2007 and July last year. A group of international observers put the total attendance at close to 200,000 people.
Young and old, male and female, Malay, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous, this was Malaysia at its mixed, tolerant, easygoing best.
The original aim of the rally was to hold a sit-in at Merdeka Square, but it was sealed off with barricades and razor wire. Instead, demonstrators surrounded the square, turning the streets of central KL into a massive sit-down protest.
Facing off with the protesters were several thousand police, seemingly prepared for a war zone rather than a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration.
When police started pulling back at around 15:00, it seemed that a confrontation would be avoided.
But within five minutes, all hell broke loose. A few hundred protesters ran through the barricades and were immediately greeted by water cannon (laced with toxic chemicals) and tear gas.
In seconds, what had been a peaceful, joyful occasion was replaced by fear and dismay. Everywhere you looked, people were running, trying to find any sort of respite from the tear gas.
Hundreds of protesters suffered sickness and injuries, as police went on the attack.
I witnessed three lone demonstrators kicked and punched by groups of cops in the space of 10 minutes.
Sickeningly, they were cheered on by a contingent of riot police (pictured below).
Three hours after the violence erupted, riot police were still firing water cannons and tear gas, even though the protesters had long since fled the area around Merdeka Square.
In a perverse twist, the authorities have blamed the Bersih 3.0 organisers for causing the violence. But anyone who witnessed the day’s events and not in the pay of the government would be hard pushed to blame anything except a completely disproportionate police response. Watch this superb video to see how a day that began with so much hope ended up so sadly.
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Tags: Bersih 3.0