Malaysian police break up opposition rally

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The Independent Online

More than 20,000 people defied government warnings in Malaysia yesterstady to attend a rally calling for political reforms.

Police used batons, water cannon and tear gas to prevent demonstrators gathering in Kuala Lumpur's Independence Stadium. More than 1,500 people were arrested during the rally, which was called by opposition parties and activist groups to demand fairer and more transparent voting laws before next year's elections.

Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling coalition declared the demonstration illegal, and warned people to stay away. Police also announced they would be following a process called "Operation Erase Bersih" to contain the protest movement, referring to the "Bersih" coalition of civic groups that organised the demonstration.

In spite of this, thousands of people marched towards the stadium from across Kuala Lumpur, chanting "long live the people" and carrying yellow balloons and flowers. Among those arrested were several senior opposition officials, while Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's top opposition figure, sustained non-serious injuries from a tear-gas round.

In elections in 2007, the opposition also made significant gains following large-scale street protests. The long-ruling government has insisted that only a minority of Malaysians support the opposition's demands.