Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has condemned Saturday's rally by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), a rights group of ethnic Indians, saying it was "an attempt to raise fear in the people and disrupt the general election".
He said the group did not respect the process of democracy as "by creating trouble they would scare off the people from coming out to vote" in the March 8 polls.
Police on Saturday dispersed the gathering by an estimated 300 slogan-shouting people, using water cannons and lobbying teargas shells. The rally had been declared illegal. About 160 people were arrested and most released later.
"The business community, too, would be affected and, like the majority of people, does not support such behaviour because this is not the Malaysian way," he was quoted as saying in The New Straits Times on Sunday.
"The country has prospered not because of demands made through illegal demonstrations," Badawi declared. He promised his government would seek to keep its promises, including looking into the problems of ethnic minorities.
His criticism of the Hindraf, that claims to speak for the two million-plus Tamil settlers from India came on the day the Election Commission announced March 8 as the date for the 12th general elections and polls to the state legislatures.
Badawi, who heads Barisan Nasional, a coalition that has parties of the main ethnic groups, has opted for elections a year ahead of schedule and had the legislatures dissolved last week.
Malaysia comprises more than 60 per cent Malays, 33 per cent Chinese and eight percent Indians.
Hindraf, which held a massive rally last November, organized on Saturday's rally with the intent of handing flowers to the prime minister, mainly by Tamil women and children. However, the ostensible reason was to seek the release of those detained for organising the November rally.
Sensing trouble during the rally, the organisers put children on a bus and sent them away, The Star newspaper said.
Abdullah also slammed those who brought children to such emotionally charged rallies.
"If it is true they are using children to put pressure to get what they want, then it is regrettable for they are placing children in danger," he said.
The dispersal of the Hindraf gathering and reports that children were part of it caused reaction among some ethnic Indians.
Malaysian Indian Congress President and Works Minister S Samy Vellu were prevented by a group of people from leaving a function.
The group, believed to be Hindraf supporters, surrounded his car Saturday night and demanded an undertaking for the release of women and children they believed had been detained.
They relented after Vellu said he would talk to the relevant authorities.
After 15 minutes, police came and cleared the way for Vellu to leave.
It is understood that the group had been misinformed that some 100 children had been detained, The New Straits Times said.
Police, however, said no children except for an 11-year-old girl had been detained. The girl was released later.
Nominations for the polls are scheduled for Sunday next and a 13-day campaign period - longer than eight days in 2004 - has been scheduled, Election Commission (EC) chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman announced on Saturday.
There are 10,701,054 voters and 221,085 postal voters in the main electoral roll that was gazetted on February 5.
Up for grabs are 222 parliamentary and 505 state seats. In 2004, there were 219 parliamentary seats.