Mayhem, arrests in Ipoh

(The Straits Times) IPOH – CHAOS reigned at the Perak state assembly on Thursday as the Barisan Nasional tried to wrest control of the legislature from Pakatan Rakyat.

In the run-up to the protest in Ipoh, the government has arrested 19 people, including a top politician from the country's Islamist opposition and a human rights activist. — PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS


The upshot? Perak now appears to have two speakers and chief ministers – one on each side. BN removed the opposition-appointed speaker V. Sivakumar in a motion tabled by BN Chief Minister Zambry Kadir, and appointed its own choice.

Datuk Zambry was nearly drowned out by the yelling of the PR assemblymen who had gathered around his seat to try to stop him from speaking. The BN pushed on and appointed their own speaker, and proceeded to carry on with proceedings from their bench.

The PR speaker has refused to vacate his seat and position. The unprecedented stand-off continues, as both sides claim legitimacy.

Outside, police arrested at least 25 people for defying a court order that bars members of the public and protestors within 500 metres of the assembly building. People were also arrested for wearing black, the colour being used to protest against the government, around the building. The sitting has adjourned for a short break.

Hundreds of police and riot squad were deployed at the Perak state parliament, which was blocked off with barricades to prevent black-clad protesters from reaching the building.

'It has become a war zone, it's a national and international disgrace,' said top opposition figure Lim Kit Siang who was turned away by riot police.

'It is more shameful and outrageous because even though we were officially invited by the (parliamentary) speaker we are refused entry,' he told reporters.

Perak has been in political limbo since February, when the Barisan Nasional coalition which rules nationally tried to oust the Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance which won the state in general elections a year ago.

After defections cost the Pakatan Rakyat its delicate balance of power, the state sultan ordered it to quit but it refused, leading to a standoff until Thursday when the assembly reconvened for the first time.

The coalition was aiming to oust the parliamentary speaker – an opposition appointee who has been blocking its attempts to exert its authority – in order to regain control of the assembly.

Teo Kok Seong, an opposition state legislator, told AFP by telephone from riot police headquarters in the state capital Ipoh that he was being held along with 30 other activists who had been arrested at the protest.

Some were hauled in for gathering outside the assembly, in defiance of a police ban, while others were dragged out of nearby restaurants.

'This is just ridiculous, how can they just arrest the public like that?' one opposition supporter R.K. Muthu told reporters at one of the restaurants facing the assembly.

'This is just like a curfew area. A fresh state election is the best way to solve all the problems for the past three months, let the people elect their government,' he said just before being arrested.