KUALA LUMPUR – MALAYSIAN opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim will lead a major fuel-price protest on Sunday, refusing to cancel the demonstration despite a police ban and fears the authorities will use force.
Mr Anwar, facing new sodomy allegations he says are politically motivated, said however that ‘in view of the current political atmosphere’ they had agreed to shift the rally to a stadium just west of Kuala Lumpur.
‘We call on Malaysians who support the movement for a more just and transparent government to join this Sunday’s peaceful gathering. We also call upon Malaysians not to be influenced by outside provocation,’ he said.
Mr Anwar – who has said he has the numbers to oust the government with the help of defecting lawmakers – has promised to slash fuel prices if he comes to power.
The gathering was originally due to be held at a football field in a suburb of the capital, as the culmination of a series of demonstrations triggered by a 41 per cent fuel price hike last month.
But organisers shifted the protest to a more easily accessible location as they expected police to seal off surrounding roads.
Police on Thursday warned the public not to take part in the rally, saying ‘action can be taken’ on those defying the ban.
Mr Hatta Ramli, a rally organiser from the Islamic opposition party PAS, criticised the ban and said it was an attempt to intimidate the public and justify the use of ‘extreme force’ to disperse protesters.
‘In a way, the people will be intimidated as police will use extreme force to clear us. But our target to gather one million people remains,’ he said.
Mr Hatta said Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was anxious to suppress the demonstration because it would escalate pressure for him to stand down after poor election results in March.
He also denounced unusual moves to deploy the military to maintain public order, after the police chief said the armed forces could assist police in future and that the two security wings were conducting a rare joint exercise.
‘Has the government lost control of the situation? Is the country in a crisis, that the military has to be called to maintain public order,’ Mr Hatta said.
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Amnesty International’s Malaysia branch criticised the proposal to draft in the military as ‘highly improper’ and said it could worsen human rights violations in Malaysia.
The rights watchdog said the proposed joint action could create confusion in the chain of command, and lead to unnecessary aggression that could result in fatal injuries.
Police sources said the last time the military was deployed to maintain public order was during deadly racial riots between Malays and Chinese on May 13, 1969.
Hundreds of people were killed in the episode, which traumatised the multicultural nation a dozen years after its independence from Britain. — AFP