Malaysian police on Saturday fired teargas and water cannons to disperse ethnic Indians clutching flowers and gathered in the capital, in the latest crackdown on public protests, witnesses said.
Some 300 people defied a police ban and attempted to gather in Independence Square in downtown Kuala Lumpur to protest alleged discrimination, before police moved in, an AFP correspondent witnessed.
“It is an embarrassing attack on the Indian community and on people who just wanted to hand over flowers to the prime minister,” said R. Thanenthiran, one of the rally organisers.
The flower protest is the latest in a series of demonstrations in recent that have rocked the multicultural nation, which is now gearing up for general elections on March 8.
More than 20 people were detained, police said, after supporters of Indian rights group Hindraf turned up near Dataran Merdeka or Independence Square. Police had earlier refused a permit for the gathering.
Indian youths dressed in saffron coloured t-shirts with the Tamil words “Makkal Sakti”, or People's Power, chanted slogans calling for justice and an end to alleged discrimination against ethnic Indians in the country.
More than 200 police approached the crowd before spraying them with water cannons and firing tear gas shells above their heads, the AFP correspondent witnessed.
“We wanted to have 200 children also peacefully give Abdullah flowers but we were tear-gassed and water-cannoned by police,” Thanenthiran said, referring to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Thanenthiran said organisers decided it was unsafe for the children to take part in the protest and they were bused away from the scene.
“We came with a gesture of peace and love and the Malaysian government did not have the courage to accept the roses,” Hindraf chairman P. Waythamoorthy told AFP. Prime minister Abdullah had not indicated before the protest that he would accept the flowers.
Abdullah has said that street protests and anger within the Indian community could have an impact on how the government fares in the general elections.