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Free detainees or face demos: Malaysian activists

india Updated: May 11, 2008 14:01 IST

AFP
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Malaysia's ethnic Indian activists on Sunday warned the government to provide medical aid to one of its leaders and free those detained under tough internal security laws or face more street rallies.

More than 50 protestors from Indian rights group Hindraf blocked the entrance to a shopping mall at the iconic Petronas twin towers in downtown Kuala Lumpur to demand medical attention for P Uthayakumar, who is diabetic.

Uthayakumar and four other members of the rights group Hindraf have been detained under the tough Internal Security Act (ISA) since December after holding an anti-discrimination rally.

"This gathering is to send a clear message to the government," Hindraf coordinator S. Jayathas told reporters.

"If (the government) deny (treatment to Uthayakumar and do not release the ISA detainees), then we will have a bigger gathering, that is definite," he said.

Hindraf leaders angered the government last November with a mass rally alleging discrimination in Malaysia, which is dominated by Muslim Malays.

Mounting anger within the Indian community was said to have been a factor in the government's drubbing in March 8 polls where it lost its two-thirds majority in parliament.

Opposition lawmaker Sivarasa Rasiah, who turned up to support the event, said the government should release ISA detainees unless they had proof to charge them in open court.

"As far as I am concerned, one day under ISA detention is too long, one ISA detainee is too many," he added.

Close to 300 policemen were deployed outside the busy shopping mall to control the protestors, with watercannon vans and riot police waiting nearby.

Hindraf supporters carried posters showing a weak-looking Uthayakumar behind bars as the crowd yelled, "Abolish the ISA" and "Freedom."

Similar protests were held in six other locations through the country, organisers said.

Rights groups say 70 people, mainly alleged Islamic militants, are being held under the ISA.

Parts of the ISA date back to the British colonial era, when it was used against communist insurgents. It provides for two-year detention periods that can be renewed indefinitely.