Malaysia

KL holds its breath as Bersih rally looms

A police officer mans a road block near Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur, July 9, 2011. — Pictures by Choo Choy MayA police officer mans a road block near Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur, July 9, 2011. — Pictures by Choo Choy MayKUALA LUMPUR, July 9 — City folk stepped out of their homes and into a ghost town this morning in what many has described as “the lull before the storm” of the nation’s second march for free and fair elections by Bersih 2.0.

The main road arteries snaking through the capital were devoid of the usual Saturday visitors, crowded instead by a sea of policemen and reporters deployed at various checkpoints across the city.

Kuala Lumpur’s characteristic hustle and bustle was whittled down to a whimper as many offices and shops, from major franchises like KFC and A&W to small-time traders, have kept their shutters down in anticipation of the chaos that may break out closer to noon.

“Most stalls on Masjid India are closed, except a few stalls selling bags, toys, perfume, beads.

“Police asked a young man on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman to open his bag and asked what he was doing here. He said he just came here for fun. He opened his bag, showing an envelope. Police then released him,” said a reporter with The Malaysian Insider stationed there.

Key areas like Masjid Jamek, Dataran DBKL, Masjid Kampung Baru, Jalan Kinabalu, Jalan Kuching Pasar Seni, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman and the vicinity of Merdeka Square and Istana Negara are being closely screened by the police.

A police officer diverts a car at a closed junction in Kuala Lumpur, July 9, 2011.A police officer diverts a car at a closed junction in Kuala Lumpur, July 9, 2011.“Still the occasional tourist milling about Stadium Negara, also there’s a church somewhere past the barricades but police are redirecting churchgoers to Jalan Pudu,” said another reporter on the ground.

The Puduraya bus terminal has been shut and buses have been rerouted to the Integrated South-Bandar Tasik Selatan Terminal and Hentian Duta.

Although train services remain uninterrupted, reports are streaming in across the city that the police have infiltrated the coaches, stopping and checking the belongings of its commuters.

“Policemen in uniform seen riding the KL Monorail coming into Maharajalela station, they appear to be stationed on the trains,” said the reporter.

According to national news agency Bernama this morning, police detained 21 people since last night until 9am this morning under Section 27 of the Police Act for planning to participate in illegal rallies.

This morning, scores more have been hauled up at various checkpoints across the city. Reports claim that, among others, Gombak PAS Youth chief Syarhan Humaizy was arrested near YMCA in Brickfields.

English daily New Straits Times also reported that four men were picked up during screening at Sogo while 28 were detained in Kampung Baru this morning.

“A man calling himself ‘Dark Justice’ was arrested at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. When asked if he’s a member of a political party, he said ‘I don’t like politics’. He called himself Omar Mokhtar. He was wearing a beige shirt and carrying a red bag,” said another reporter.

Police check the contents of a woman’s purse in Kuala Lumpur, July 9, 2011.Police check the contents of a woman’s purse in Kuala Lumpur, July 9, 2011.Despite the round of arrests, reports from the ground say that none of Bersih 2.0’s signature yellow or Umno Youth’s red-shirted Patriots have been spotted in the city as at 10am.

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) opposition leaders are scheduled to begin their march from Brickfields later while Bersih Leaders are to converge at Masjid Negara. Umno Youth’s “Patriots” are to gather at Bukit Bintang.

Since last night, the police have been combing the city for signs of possible protestors and even began knocking on hotel room doors.

By noon today, the capital city is expected to be invaded by a sea of yellow-shirted protestors as electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 leads its second mammoth rally since 2007 to call for free and fair elections.

Its first gathering, which saw an estimated 50,000-strong turnout, had turned chaotic when riot police fired tear gas canisters and water cannons to disperse protestors.

Bersih’s street march, which they claimed will stay peaceful, faces the risks of clashes with rival marchers from other groups, including Umno Youth’s “patriots”.

The police have arrested hundreds of Bersih 2.0 supporters in the past weeks, issued stern warnings to those determined to participate in the mammoth event and even obtained court orders to lock out 91 leaders of Bersih 2.0, Umno Youth and Malay rights group Perkasa from the city tomorrow.

But Bersih’s leaders, backed by PR parties, have shrugged off the challenges and will proceed with the movement’s plans, scheduled from 2pm-4pm at various checkpoints across the city.

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