Malaysian police have used tear gas and water cannons against a street protest by thousands of ethnic Indians in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Many ethnic Indians have complained that they are marginalised in terms of employment and business by a government dominated by politicians from the majority of ethnic Malays. Malaysian authorities had already cracked down violently on a protest that was critical of the government earlier in November. Hamish MacDonald, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kuala Lumpur, said on Sunday: "Ethnic Indians are one of the minority ethnic groups in Malaysia. These people believe they are given a raw deal by the government.
"The Malaysia government has laws which favour the Malay Muslim majority, and the ethnic Indians feel that they are not represented properly.
"They tried to hand over a petition at the British High Commission this morning, because they feel that this disadvantage goes back to the colonial days.
"Since then the protest has moved towards the city centre and turned violent.
"The police have fired water cannons and many, many rounds of tear gas into the faces of the protesters. The protest has since turned into a street battle," he said.
Protesters denied official warnings to stay away from the planned rally in the capital, which had been organised by a Hindu rights group to draw attention to complaints of government discrimination against the minority ethnic Indian community.
Witnesses said Indians had regrouped a few hundred metres from British High Commission to call on the former colonial ruler to make reparations for bringing Indians to Malaysia as indentured labour just over a century ago.
A lawsuit filed recently seeks $4 trillion in compensation for the estimated two-million ethnic Indians whose ancestors were brought over to Malaysia as labourers by Britain in the 1800s.
Ethnic Indians make up about seven per cent of the population.
Forming 60 per cent of the nation's 27 million people, ethnic Malay Muslims make up the majority, while 26 per cent are Chinese.
Malaysian police fire tear gas to halt Indian protest (Reuters)
Sunday, 25 November 2007
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian police used tear gas and water cannon on Sunday to quell a street protest by more than 10,000 ethnic Indians complaining of government discrimination against their community. It was the second crackdown this month on a demonstration critical of the government, as speculation grows that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will soon call early elections. Sunday's rally was the biggest by ethnic Indians in 20 years.
Thousands flocked to the gathering in central Kuala Lumpur called by a Hindu rights group despite threats of arrest and four days of road blocks that have put the city into virtual lockdown.
At least one policeman was injured when protesters wielding crash helmets as weapons clashed with riot police, one officer said. Organizers said 400 were arrested and 19 injured. Police said they had no official figures as yet.
Police prevented protesters from marching to the British embassy, where they had planned to ask the former colonial ruler to indemnify Indians for bringing them to Malaya as indentured labor more than a century ago. But the rally sent Abdullah a clear message.
"We are here for our rights," one protester told Reuters. "The British brought our forefathers here 150 years ago. Whatever the government is supposed to give us, to look after our welfare, well, they have failed."
Some ethnic Indians, who make up about 7 percent of the population, complain that they are marginalized in terms of employment and business opportunities by a government dominated by politicians from the majority race, the ethnic Malays.
The group had promised that Sunday's rally would be peaceful, but the government warned ethnic Indians not to participate, saying it could stoke racial tension.