Malaysia detains 60 activists


(AP) – Malaysian police have detained dozens of opposition supporters in what activists say is an attempt to deter a massive rally next month to demand more electoral transparency.

Authorities held about 60 people in various towns, some of them detained while distributing political leaflets on Saturday, according to human-rights group Suaram. Many were released after several hours of questioning, while the others were expected to be freed soon.

The arrests came as Prime Minister Najib Razak and national police chief Ismail Omar called on Malaysians over the weekend to shun an opposition-backed rally scheduled for July 9, saying it could spark chaos in Kuala Lumpur.

The opposition insists Najib’s National Front ruling coalition has long relied on fraud to manipulate election results and maintain its nearly 54-year uninterrupted grip on power. The government says current election laws are fair.

Independent political activists supported by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s alliance are hoping to gather tens of thousands of people for a march to demand changes in election laws aimed at curbing fraud at the next national polls, which are widely expected within a year.

Human-rights lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar said the police appeared to be waging “a campaign of pre-emptive arrests” ahead of the rally.

“The police campaign appears to be aimed more at intimidation, apparently on the misconceived basis that this is a legitimate means to preserving public order,” Malik said.

Activists across the nation are trying to boost political awareness and encourage people to travel to Kuala Lumpur for what they hope will be Malaysia’s biggest political rally in nearly four years.

Their demands include overhauling voter registration lists and introducing transparent procedures for ballots to be cast and counted.

Najib accused the opposition of supporting the plan for a rally to “create chaos just because you want power”.

“If there is chaos, then you will be held responsible,” the prime minister said on Sunday.

The mandate of the current National Front-led government expires in mid-2013, but many analysts expect Najib to hold elections by next year amid signs that the opposition has lost momentum since the last national polls in 2008.

In that election, Anwar’s alliance seized more than one-third of parliament’s seats in the government’s worst electoral setback.