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Perak Assembly Chaos

Malaysian police arrested dozens of protesters on Thursday, including three opposition MPs, in a standoff in the northwestern city of Ipoh over who rules peninsular Malaysia’s second largest state.

Witnesses saw police, backed by water cannon, surround the state legislature with barbed wire and prevent opposition MPs from gaining access to the legislature, which was holding its first session since the state government was ousted.

They completely cleared a 500 metre exclusion zone around the state building, snatching anyone wearing black, the colour chosen by the opposition to protest against the takeover.

Perak has become the focal point of tensions between the opposition and the National Front government that has ruled Malaysia for 51 years following the takeover of the state government in a move orchestrated by Najib Razak, the country’s new prime minister.

In February, Najib convinced three opposition lawmakers to sit as independents, a move that deprived the People’s Alliance of its majority in the state, one of five ruled by the opposition.

The opposition wants new elections to resolve the stalemate, something that has been resisted by a government that has lost four out of five state and parliamentary by-elections since a March 2008 general election.

“We are willing to lose in an election but not to be treated like this,” Salahuddin Ayub, an MP for the country’s Islamist opposition party, told reporters before he was arrested.

Inside the legislature, reporters allowed to attend said there was pandemonium as the government and opposition traded barbs and argued over who had the right to sit in the assembly. Website Malaysiakini said that lawmakers briefly scuffled with each other and the session was suspended with the pro-government and opposition parties both claiming to hold the post of speaker that runs the sittings.

Outside the building several legislators from opposition states were arrested as streets in the city were blocked by police to prevent protesters gathering.

“I am an elected representative, I am not fighting you,” said Jenice Lee, an opposition state assembly member from Selangor near the capital, Kuala Lumpur, as she was dragged away by police.

When Najib took office last month he freed two political detainees, lifted a ban on two opposition party papers, called for a more open media, and pledged a revamp of a security law allowing detention without trial.

That fuelled hopes that he would free up restrictive politics as well as removing restrictions on the economy that is facing its worst downturn since the Asian financial crisis and a booming budget deficit that has caused bond yields to widen.

However, this week, in the run-up to the Perak assembly sitting some 19 people from ranging from a senior opposition figure to human rights activists and opposition supporters have been arrested.

The opposition now charges that Najib, who took office in April, is intent on cracking down on dissent against his unpopular government.

“This is a war zone, a national and international disgrace,” Lim Kit Siang, a senior member of parliament with the opposition Democratic Action Party, one of three parties in an alliance, said after he was denied entry to the state assembly.

Source : Reuter

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