KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Malaysian authorities Tuesday detained opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim at the capital's airport and arrested at least 20 protesters who defied a ban on handing a petition to parliament.
The incidents were the latest moves in a government crackdown on its critics who have organised a series of street demonstrations that have drawn tens of thousands and sent shockwaves through the nation.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Monday he was willing to sacrifice public freedom to maintain national security, justifying the arrests of dozens of people on charges including attempted murder and sedition.
Anwar, the former deputy premier who became a vocal government critic after being sacked and jailed in 1998, said he was held for an hour on his return from a trip to Turkey and told he was on a "suspect list".
"Under the guise of preserving public safety, in the last three days the authorities have increased their repressive tactics against Malaysian citizens and arrested key opposition figures and civil rights leaders," he said.
"These repressive tactics are a sign that Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's leadership of Malaysia has run its course."
An immigration spokesman told AFP he had no knowledge of Anwar's detention at the international airport, but that names for the blacklist are usually provided by police.
Keadilan officials said however that the move was linked to Anwar's involvement in the Bersih electoral reform movement which staged a mass rally last November as well as Tuesday's petition protest.
More than 400 police surrounded the parliament to block electoral reform campaigners who were forced to march there on foot after all roads leading to the building were closed off, causing traffic chaos in Kuala Lumpur.
Police said 20 people had been arrested, including several members of Anwar's Keadilan party and the hardline Islamic party PAS, while Keadilan said 25 were detained including a 13-year-old boy, although nine were later freed.
"We did not want the crowd size to get big," assistant police commissioner Sofian Yasin told AFP. "We detained the protestors as they arrived so that there would be no scuffles and clashes and no one would get hurt."
Really? That's fascinating.
The police single-handedly managed to cause some scuffles because as far as all eyewitnesses have agreed, Tian was dragged from his car as he was arrested for no legitimate reason.
Trees lining the streets were posted with copies of a court order obtained by police that banned the campaigners from parliament.
The petition against a proposed constitutional amendment was eventually given to opposition members of parliament to be passed to the speaker.
It urged lawmakers to reject the proposal that would extend the retirement age for Election Commission officers, likely allowing current chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman to stay in the role during polls expected next year.
"Abdul Rashid, whose service is continuously marred with recurring electoral frauds and manipulations, is not fit for the job and must go immediately," it said.
Cabinet minister Nazri Aziz, who is in charge of justice issues, defended the police action.
"They want to come and demonstrate today's amendment to the constitution. So they want to come in big numbers. We will not allow that," he told reporters at parliament.
"We have taken action against them and we are using the court system to prosecute these people."
The government, with the assistance of its rundog NST attempts to spin another story:
The business friendly part I can buy - tax exemptions etc. But politically stable??
Don't make me laugh.