Malaysia

Bersih rally shows angry and divided nation, says Umno deputy minister

By Shannon Teoh
April 29, 2012

A protester shouts during a confrontation with police near Dataran Merdeka, in Kuala Lumpur April 28, 2012. — Reuters picA protester shouts during a confrontation with police near Dataran Merdeka, in Kuala Lumpur April 28, 2012. — Reuters picKUALA LUMPUR, April 29 — An Umno deputy minister broke ranks with his colleagues today, saying the violent and chaotic scenes at yesterday’s Bersih rally pointed to an angry and divided nation that the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) must take special care in addressing.

Umno supreme council member Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah told The Malaysian Insider the crowd that flooded the streets of the capital to call for free and fair elections was larger and had people from all races than last July 9’s Bersih rally.

“There were elements of defiance and anger from the crowd and police who acted strangely towards journalists. BN must be very careful in addressing this,” the deputy higher education minister said ahead of an Umno supreme council meeting tonight.

BN-linked media and Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin have swiftly blamed Bersih and opposition leaders for the violence that followed after some demonstrators defied orders from police and organisers not to breach the barriers surrounding Dataran Merdeka.

Saifuddin said he would raise the handling of yesterday’s planned sit-in at the historic square during tonight’s party leadership meeting.

“Last year, members of the public were not angry, they just wanted fair polls. This time they’re angry. But yet surveys show BN’s support has gone up. This just tells me the country is getting more and more divided.

“If not for the police car incident, Bersih 3.0 would be a bigger issue for BN,” he said.

Tens of thousands demonstrators were dispersed by police with water cannon and tear gas after some rally-goers pushed through the barricade in front of the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) and tried to rush into Dataran Merdeka.

Some of the 15,000-strong group sandwiched between police and DBKL broke down the barriers and moved towards the historic square, prompting police to fire chemical-laced water and tear gas canisters.

PKR deputy president Azmin Ali had tried to negotiate with police, who told the Gombak MP to calm the group down. But despite his advice, they still broke through the barricades.

Police fired as far as the DBKL premises, which are across Jalan Parlimen, and the move broke up the crowd who fled helter-skelter but police chased them down at Jalan Tun Perak and Jalan Raja Laut.

Angry protestors later attacked a police car, which then crashed into at least two people while trying to flee.

Despite most of the crowd dispersing, a pocket of 1,000 demonstrators then engaged in open battle with riot police near Masjid Jamek.

A police officer was seen dragging a man across the road, which resulted in Bersih supporters attacking the police with broken bottles, mineral water bottles and broken concrete slabs.

A convoy of police vehicles ferrying Mayor Tan Sri Ahmad Fuad Ismail in one of its cars was forced to make a U-turn near Masjid Jamek when met with a hostile reception from protestors who threw shoes and broken concrete slabs at them, smashing the windows of two cars.