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Five hundred hold protest rally against Mahathir

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February 18, 2001 


KUALA LUMPUR-- (AP) - Police wielding canes and backed by water cannon trucks chased protesters through a busy street in Kuala Lumpur to break up a rally of about 500 people Saturday against longtime leader Mahathir Mohamed.

The protest came amid warnings by a main opposition party that it would step up rallies around the country in the coming week to highlight alleged abuses in the government and in support of ousted Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Seven people, including Tian Chua - a leader with the opposition National Justice Party - were arrested in Saturday's protest for allegedly assaulting policemen and illegal assembly, law enforcement officials said.

Meanwhile, the opposition accused police of assaulting several protesters. Eyewitnesses said they saw at least one protester assaulted by a group of policemen.

Scores of people began gathering outside a police station Saturday, blocking a main street, as opposition leaders arrived to lodge a complaint against Mohtar Abdullah, a supreme court judge and former Attorney-General.

Within 30 minutes, the crowd swelled to about five hundred and chanted "Reformasi" or Reform - the opposition battle cry - and "Destroy Mahathir," ignoring repeated warnings by police to break up.

Three people were arrested as police moved in to break the rally. Half an hour later the protesters regrouped in a nearby area, prompting police to move in again and arrest another four opposition activists including Tian.

The complaint alleged that Mohtar, who prosecuted Anwar in two controversial trials, did not bring charges for alleged corruption against several prominent figures including a Cabinet minister despite sufficient evidence.

Over the past week, hundreds of special police units have been deployed in the northern states of Kedah and Penang where massive opposition rallies were held. On Tuesday, police fired tear gas and chemical-laced water to disperse about 5,000 people at a rally in Kubang Pasu - Mahathir's parliamentary constituency.

The Justice Party, led by Anwar's wife Azizah Ismail, have vowed to defy police and step up protests against Mahathir - who sacked Anwar in 1998.

Anwar was convicted of sodomy and corruption charges and handed jail sentences totaling 15 years. He said the charges were trumped up by Mahathir to extinguish a challenge to his 19-year rule in this Southeast Asian country. Mahathir denies the accusations.

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