KL turned into a war zone

By Fuzeani Fauzi, a local journalist, Free Malaysia Today

In the shadows cast by a building in the city centre on the Saturday afternoon of the Bersih 3.0 rally, I find myself caught between three policemen beating and screaming at a youngish Malay man, himself cowering on the ground with his back to the wall, with Batu MP Tian Chua behind me in an argument with another cop.

One cop breaks away from the pack petrifying the youth, who had begun crying. He yells at me with a hand on his sidearm unfastening its clasp.

“Kak pergi balik kak! Pergi! PERGI!”

Both my hands shoot up in reflex. But my feet won’t move. Twenty minutes ago, I didn’t think I would be here.

Twenty minutes ago, it is burning hot. The crowd is massive and pushing at all sides or not moving at all, and all I want is to find some water. I pass by the young, old, women, men, Chinese, Indian, the chanting, the singing, the sitting, yellows, greens. I spot a 7-Eleven. I am not the only one.

Closer to the convenience store, bodies press up with no space even to twist to get in. The store worker keeps the door closed from the inside to keep the crowd from rushing in. No such luck. They storm in – I, with difficulty, get away. I spot a juice seller about 500m away and buy water. I head back to the City Hall building across the street from the Dataran Merdeka barricade where I had split up with my brother to see if he is still there. I get there. He isn’t.

And then, there’s a low booming noise from the barricades in front of Dataran. I see the jet of water first before the crowd below rushing at the FRU trucks. What a sight, I think safely, from across the street.

And then: POW, POW, POW. Canisters of gas fall on every side of me. The crowd runs. I run. Tear gas hurts… I try to breathe. I can’t. I remember my cough from weeks ago and how it might have made my lungs vulnerable. It’s going to kill me, I think. I remember the box of milk in my pack. I pour it into the palm of my hand and all over my face. It helps. Men pry open (with what? I don’t know) a fire hydrant to get water. Girls in tudung labuh pass me salt. I have no clue what to do with it.

“Put in under your tongue.”

Respite lasts about 15 minutes. The protesters regroup on the main road. As do the police. The lines are drawn. The stand-off begins. The protesters inch closer and closer to the police line. And then, it’s too close. The cops rush. The protesters run. The cops stop. The protesters stop. The protesters rush. The cops run.

And then POW. POW. POW. Getting away from that second round of tear gas takes me to this small enclave behind the building. Tian Chua offers me water to wash my eyes. And then the cops storm. Protesters jump a small space and over barbed wire to get to the other side. I do not. And then it’s me, the boy, Chua and the cops.

“Kak pergi balik kak! Pergi! PERGI!”