Oil habits die hard

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The Malaysian government didn't seem to mind the recent local protests against Israel’s invasion of Lebanon but demonatrations against oil fuel price hikes remain a big ‘no-no’, noted PSM.

Kuala Lumpur
29 July 2006

After being extra nice for two days when Malaysian police allowed three demonstrations to take place, police today returned to their old habits when they put to an end a demonstration against petrol price hikes and inflation.

Participating in the demonstration were student groups from DEMA and groups aligned to Parti Sosialis Malaysia. Other political parties present were PAS and Keadilan. The number of people who turned up for the demonstration was a disappointment. PAS failed to repeat the huge turnout it got on Friday. It is still unclear if the police cordon around the venue deterred many people from coming.

The police today put up a very heavy presence and blocked the front entrance to the KLCC. They told onlookers that there was a police drill going on. The FRU, plainclothes policemen, the horse units and others were all ready to strike the demonstrators away before the crowd could swell.
Protes, the coalition against price hikes, then called the small crowd to gather. Dr. Hatta Ramli, the PAS national treasurer, began the address. He spoke and shouted slogans against the price hike. Then the emcee, Badrul from Keadilan Youth, came up with some cheeky slogans. He asked the police to be nice to the people and to refrain from hitting them with their batons.

A few more speakers took centre stage; student leaders from GMM spoke as well. When Zahir Hassan from JIM spoke and related how he was attacked the last time, the police  announced it was giving the crowd five minutes to disperse. ACP Kamal Pasha, the district police chief, was seen on a FRU truck waiting to unleash the FRU on the small crowd.

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The organisers then got popular PAS speaker, Mohamad Sabu, on stage, followed by Tian Chua. Things became tense as the police repeated the warning and were in striking position. Timely intervention by PSM Secretary-General S Arutchelvan managed to prolong the event for another ten minutes. The few police officers from the FRU came down and wanted to give the ‘final final’ warning.

Arutchelvan, who is also Protes deputy chairperson, then took centre stage. He dispersed the crowd but told the crowd as well as the police that this would not be the last demonstration. The crowd then dispersed. There were no untoward incidents and nobody got arrested.

It is clear that the State has become sensitive when the issues are local; it didn’t want to allow the demonstration to go on even though the demonstration the previous day was much bigger. The State can tolerate a demonstration against the United States or Israel but not against the ruling party.

Arutchelvan when met later said that “the police numbers were bigger than us and the most sensible thing to do is retreat for now. Though some people would have preferred to be defiant and to wait for the police to attack them, he dismissed such people as those interested in  cheap thrill and publicity. The biggest challenge would be to mobilise more people in the future. He also said that a post-mortem would be held and that further plans would be made known.

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