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RAWANG, Dec 16 — Police have detained more than two dozen teenagers taking part in a protest over low wages that involves a mass bicycle trek across Malaysia to deliver a petition to the prime minister, a labour rights group said today. The riders are mainly ethnic Indian farmers, factory workers and their children. The minority Indian community, among Malaysia's poorest, has been hit hard by rising inflation that recently reached its highest level in nearly 30 years.

Two groups began pedalling on Dec 3, one setting out from the north and the other from the south, said Y. Kohila, a coordinator for protest organiser, the Oppressed People's Movement (Jerit). They will each cover about 400km before they meet in Parliament on Thursday to hand a petition to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and other lawmakers. Twenty-eight teenage riders were detained yesterday at a police roadblock in Selangor, said Kohila. They remained in police custody today because authorities were only willing to release them to their parents, most of whom are in northern Malaysia.

"Police made this move to save these children from exploitation by irresponsible parties," Selangor Police Chief Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar told the national news agency, Bernama. Kohila denied the teenagers were coerced into the campaign, which she said is meant to "make the government take action to alleviate the problems of plantation and factory workers."

Over the past two weeks, police have arrested the riders at separate locations for conducting a public protest without permission, but later freed them without charges. The riders have continued their journey after being released. The group's wide-ranging demands include a minimum wage law, tighter government control of consumer prices, better public housing and a halt to privatisation of public services including water, health care and education


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