Sunday, August 14, 2011

Breezes of change in Malaysia

Protesters on the streets of Kuala Lumpur were met by police in full riot gear and clouds of tear gas

Malaysia's reputation as a peaceful, multi-ethnic role model was shaken last weekend when thousands of protesters took to the streets of the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

The rally was organised by a collective of non-governmental organisations and activists calling itself Bersih - or the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections. The word "bersih" means "clean" in the Malay language.

The group's stated aim is to push for reforms of Malaysia's electoral system, which it claims is skewed in favour of the governing coalition.

In a determined effort to enforce a ban on the march, police locked down the centre of the city. Traffic was allowed - almost encouraged - to leave, but nothing was allowed back inside the cordon.

The protesters pushed on regardless, gathering in front of the road blocks, determined to make their point. Police in full riot gear were waiting.

Jets from water cannon flooded Kuala Lumpur streets. Clouds of tear gas billowed overhead - empty canisters were thrown back towards the police lines.

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