April 28, 2012 - 14:52 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Police unleashed tear gas and chemical-laced water Saturday, April 28 at thousands of demonstrators who staged one of Malaysia's largest street rallies in years, demanding fair rules for national elections expected soon.
According to The Associated Press, at least 25,000 demonstrators swamped Malaysia's largest city, hoping to pressure Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling coalition - which has held power for nearly 55 years - to overhaul electoral policies before polls that could be held as early as June.
Authorities insist the elections will be free and fair, rejecting activists' claims that the Election Commission is biased and that voter registration lists are tainted with fraudulent names.
Demonstrators wearing yellow T-shirts, waving banners and chanting slogans poured into downtown Kuala Lumpur, massing near a public square that police had sealed off with barbed wire and barricades.
Authorities had refused to allow an opposition-backed pressure group that organized the rally to use Independence Square, a nationally renowned venue that hosts parades and patriotic celebrations.
The demonstration remained peaceful for several hours, prompting organizers to declare it a success and ask people to head home. But when a small group appeared to suddenly breach the police barriers, authorities began firing tear gas and water laced with stinging chemicals at the crowd.
Baton-wielding police backed by trucks mounted with water cannon sporadically fired tear gas at some demonstrators for at least an hour before much of the crowd was dispersed. People fled into streets and stores nearby, leaving shoes, bottles and other belongings scattered on the ground.
Authorities were seen detaining dozens of people, with Malaysian media reports saying as many as 60 were arrested. Police said one protester snatched a pistol from its personnel during the chaos and others destroyed public property.
But despite the large turnout for Saturday's demonstration, there was no indication that Prime Minister Najib's National Front coalition would agree to major changes to satisfy the activists.
The National Front, which has governed Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957, suffered its worst performance in 2008 elections, when it lost more than a third of Parliament's seats amid public complaints about corruption and racial discrimination.