Police on Saturday turned water cannons on a group of ethnic Indians in Malaysia who refused to disperse outside a police station - where they had come to lodge complaints alleging mistreatment of a jailed activist - and arrested 17 of them.
P. Uthayakumar, a leader of the banned Hindu Rights Action Front (Hindraf) and who suffers from acute diabetes, has been detained under the stringent Internal Security Act (ISA) as one of the five organisers of a protest rally in November 2007.
The crowd refused to disperse despite repeated warnings, city police chief Mohammed Sabtu Osman said.
Seventeen people, including lawmaker Manikavasagam, have been arrested for the "illegal gathering". Among the arrested, three, including a woman, were sent to hospital but police declined to comment on this.
Earlier Saturday, about 300 people, including several MPs, had gathered to make police complaints. Police allowed about 50 people - five family members of Uthayakumar and five representatives each from the country's nine states, including MPs - to enter the station to lodge the complaints.
The rest outside were asked to disperse. Most of them did but about 30 refused to leave.
The Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) began shooting chemical-laced water at the crowd. The 30 ran away and then returned.
There were three rounds of regrouping by the protestors and follow up action by police lasting 40 minutes, Star Online said.
Police have since established a safety perimeter around the police station.
Hindraf claims to speak for Malaysia's two million Indians, a bulk of them Tamil Hindus who came here during the British era. It protests discrimination in jobs and education and alleges that the government demolishes their religious shrines indiscriminately.
They form about eight percent of Malaysia's population.
Malaysia's Inspector General of Police Musa Hassan said police had no choice as the crowd had ignored police advice to disperse as they were inconveniencing others at the police station.
"The police station is a security area and we cannot allow such huge numbers inside for security reasons," he said.
Musa warned that police would not hesitate to take stern action against any illegal gathering.
Gobind Singh Deo, an opposition ethnic Indian lawmaker of the opposition Ddemocfratic Action Party (DAP) who arrived later, said the incident should not have happened as every citizen had the right to lodge a police report regardless of the number.
"It is clear there are different standards practised by the police when dealing with such matters," he said.