Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ethnic Indians warn of more street protests unless Malaysia frees detainees

Ethnic Indians warn of more street protests unless Malaysia frees detainees

By JULIA ZAPPEI,Associated Press Writer AP - Wednesday, April 9

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Ethnic Indian activists in Malaysia warned Tuesday of more street protests if the government doesn't free five activists being held without trial under a strict security law.

The top five leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force were arrested in December after organizing a rally in which about 20,000 Indians protested alleged government discrimination. Police used tear gas and water cannons to crush the protest.

The activists are being held under the Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial.

"I'm warning the government ... don't play with fire. We will go down again to protest," said S. Manikavasagam, a leading activist with Hindraf and a recently elected member of Parliament.

Malaysia's minority Indian community largely voted against the government in general elections last month, partly because of the wave of sympathy that followed the police crackdown on the Hindraf protest. One of the Hindraf leaders detained was elected to a state assembly seat while imprisoned.

N. Surendran, a lawyer with the group, said the election results showed "people are repulsed and disgusted by detention without trial."

"People are waiting. ... If the government is not going to shift its position, the people will have a right to protest peacefully," he said.

The Malaysian government rarely allows protest marches or demonstrations, saying it threatens public order and security. The few rallies that have taken place in the recent past have been quelled by tear gas and mass arrests.

The government has warned Indians not to take to the streets again.

"Please don't threaten the well-being of the country because that would leave the government with no other option than to protect the nation," Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar was quoted by national news agency Bernama as saying late Monday.

Hindraf members tried to meet with Syed Hamid on Monday to seek the release of the five activists, but failed. Syed Hamid has previously said the five cannot be freed because they are still considered a security threat.

One of the detainees, who is diabetic, was admitted to hospital Monday because of a high blood sugar level. He is in stable condition, Surendran said.

The Hindraf movement has tested race relations in Malaysia by bringing to surface simmering complaints that minorities are treated unfairly in this multiethnic nation.

Muslim Malays make up 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people and enjoy a host of privileges denied to minorities. The Chinese make up 25 percent of the population, while Indians account for 8 percent.

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