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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hindraf protesters play cat-and-mouse game

A Hindraf rally was foiled after police swoop down on its leaders and supporters, arresting more than 100.

KUALA LUMPUR: Hindraf protesters today played a cat-and-mouse game with the police as they attempted to assemble sporadically at various spots around the city.

Their attempts were thwarted after police arrested 109 people, including their leader Human Rights Party (HRP) pro tem secretary-general P Uthayakumar, the president and Hindraf coordinator W Sambulingan and several other state leaders.

This official number is disputed by the organisers who claimed there were 150 detained at Pulapol (police training centre) in Jalan Semarak.

However, the setbacks did not stop Hindraf from calling it a “victory” and many are planning to go on hunger strikes and even a candlelight vigil until the release of their leaders and comrades.

“We are proud about our arrests. We don’t feel guilty. We just want justice, for the Interlok novel to be banned and racism to be stopped,” Sambulingam said, adding that he was assaulted by the police.

“We are innocent civilians without arms and we are gathering peacefully. Why do the police need to show their might?” he asked, adding that he was punched, pushed to the ground, kicked and stepped on.

The protesters were supposed to have gathered at Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) at 9am this
morning and march to the Dang Wangi police headquarters to lodge a police report against the government for Umno racism. The demonstrators were also targeting the controversial Interlok novel for its derogatory remarks about the Indian community.

Earlier, the reporters ran helter-skelter to capture the moments of drama as Indians, suspected to be protesters, were detained around the heavily guarded KLCC vicinity.

No one knew the actual number of Indians participating in the rally, but police said they were did not reach 500, contrary to the organisers estimation of over 2,000.

Many were arrested at the bus, taxi and railway stations before they could begin to organise themselves.

Roads sealed

Roads leading to KLCC were all sealed and roadblocks were erected in Jalan Ampang, Jalan Kepong, Jalan Cheras, Jalan Tun Razak and Jalan Duta-Sungai Buloh Highway.

One of the protesters, Chandran, 45, from Klang, told reporters at the KLCC that several supporters have arrived but were unable to gather.

“Why is it so difficult to move around? We just want to be the voice of the Indian community,” he said, before being hauled away.

Uthayakumar himself was picked up at his residence at Pantai Hill Park Condominium at about 7.50am while others – Kedah HRP chairman R Ramu and information chief S Jayathas – were picked up later.

Protesters Kannan Ramasamy and several others of Malaysia Makkal Sakti Party were detained at the Kelana Jaya LRT station.

However, a group of 30 people managed to assemble in front of the Australian High Commission at 10.15 am to protest against Interlok.

They were led by PKR members – MS Arjunan (former Chenderiang PKR candidate), S Murali (Puchong division) and A Ponnusamy (Pahang deputy chief).

The protest march that did not take place in KLCC eventually took shape at Sri Kortumalai Pillaiyar temple, near Jalan Pudu, with about 300 gathered there at about 10.30am.

“To hell with (Deputy Federal Territories and Wellbeing Minister) M Saravanan,” said one protester, S Ramachandran, 36, who was referring to the MIC vice-president’s press statement in a Tamil daily asking police to arrest the protesters.

Among others, the protesters chanted slogans “Hapuskan Interlok” and “Jangan hina kaum India”.

‘Hounded like dogs’

Speaking to reporters later, Hindraf and HRP national adviser N Ganesan lambasted the authorities for cracking down on a peaceful protest. “We are hounded like dogs. We are not a threat to national security. Umno is the threat,” he said.

Ganesan also listed four demands: release all those detained, ban the Interlok novel, rescind the ban on Hindraf and abolish all racist policies.

There was also a small argument among the protesters at the temple as the organisers did not allow other protesters to put up their banners.

Ganesan was also detained shortly.

The protesters then marched to the Kuala Lumpur police headquarters off Jalan Hang Tuah.

A stand-off took place as the Federal Reserve Unit was ready to charge but spokesman A Thiruvenggadam negotiated with the city police deputy chief Amar Singh, who allowed them to sit down at the parking area.

The crowd then left for Jinjang to show support for Hindraf Makkal Sakti leaders detained there.

Candlelight vigil

Meanwhile, Kuala Lumpur police chief, Deputy Commissioner of Police Zulkifli Abdullah, confirmed the 109 arrests, saying that eight of them were Hindraf leaders and another eight were women and two online journalists.

They were aged between 18 and 66.

“I am disappointed that they have been stubborn and have acted in this manner despite our advice to them to call it off,” said Zulkifli.

“This shows that they do not respect the law,” he added.

Zulkifli also said that police were aided by 13 Indian NGOs which helped dissuade many Indians from participating in the rally.

The protesters are being investigated under Section 27(5) of the Police Act for illegal assembly and the leaders under Section 45(1) of the Societies Act 1966 for inciting people to become a member of an unlawful society. A reporter and a citizen journalist were investigated under Section 186 of the Penal Code for obstructing police.

Meanwhile, Selangor HRP Youth chief S Thiagarajan said if no one is released from the Jinjang police station, some 200 supporters will hold a candlelight vigil at 6.30pm.

He added that police also confiscated several HRP’s orange T-shirts leaving some protesters bare-bodied.

As of 3.25pm, it was learnt that all protesters have been released f Pulapol. A HRP detainee said he
was told that 12 of them would be charged.

Meanwhile, Hindraf legal adviser M Manoharan claimed that HRP information chief, S Jayathas , was badly injured and unconscious when he last saw him.

“Jayathas and I were driving past the British Consulate and the police came and arrested him when he was speaking to some disabled protesters. There was a scuffle and I saw Jayathas falling to the
ground and assaulted,” he said.

Manoharan said he also witnessed Uthayakumar’s arrest, adding that police had no grounds to arrest him. - FMT

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