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Anwar Ibrahim

Nurul Izzah

Tian Chua

A PKR ceramah featuring Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar turned ugly when the crowd as well as opposition leaders were pelted with stones and eggs. Tensions were already running high before the event began last night, as the scheduled PKR function was located a mere 100 metres away from another ceramah — one organised by Umno. Some 100 Lembah Pantai Umno youth members were earlier seen blocking the main road leading to the PKR ceramah venue, carrying banners which read “Anwar causes violence in this country.” PKR’s ceramah had an unceremonious start as guest speakers tried to speak as loudly as they could to compete with the Umno ceramah nearby. Chaos occurred when Nurul Izzah was about to speak — the wiring to the sound and lights system was cut, delaying the Lembah Pantai MP’s speech by a good 15 minutes.

Shortly after she spoke, Anwar arrived and that was when the stone- and egg-pelting commenced. The night saw one major casualty where a senior citizen suffered injuries to the head after being hit with a stone. The PKR de facto chief ordered the bleeding man to be brought to the nearest medical centre for treatment. Anwar also immediately blamed Umno for the incident. “This is the way of Umno youth. A man has been injured because stones were thrown at him by the accursed Umno youth! “I challenge (Datuk Seri) Najib (Razak) to a debate, not to send his thugs to do this,” said Anwar to cheers from the 1,000-odd crowd who were mostly PR supporters. “Throwing stones, it means a total lack of respect for democracy in Malaysia... it is a sign of an Umno-BN that is desperate to hold on to power,” added Nurul Izzah.

In contrast, Umno’s 500-odd ceramah attendance degenerated into a verbal shouting match as its star speaker Ummi Hafilda Ali screamed verbal abuse each time Anwar or any PR leader spoke. “Anwar is al-juburi. He is pro-Jewish. He is the father of womanisers,” shouted the woman whose complaint led to Anwar’s first sodomy trial, as she tried to drown the former deputy prime minister’s speech. This prompted Anwar to say: “We want to win the elections not by insulting people but by rule of law. “I am used to getting insulted every night, for 14 years I have been insulted by TV3 and Utusan Malaysia,” he said to cheers from the PKR crowd. This marks the third time a PR function has been disrupted after similar incidents in Merlimau and Malacca last weekend

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Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim flayed the National Fatwa Council for issuing an edict barring Muslims from participating in unproductive and unlawful assemblies, saying that such a move was “disgusting” as it was using religion to “defend cruelty”. The PKR de facto leader claimed the council relied only on “Umno propaganda” for reading material, which he said contradicted another one made four months ago by Islamic scholar Dr Yusuf Al Qardawi, who hailed Egyptian protesters as freedom fighters intending to bring change and freedom to the north African nation. “Using religion to defend cruelty — that is the most disgusting thing." “Qardawi had already discussed the fatwa before the council had issued theirs. But they are unaware of this because they don’t read such books. They only read Umno propaganda,”.

Last year, thousands of Egyptians occupied Tahrir Square for days to rally for the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak. Despite being peaceful in nature, BBC News reported that official figures show that at least 846 people died and 6,000 more were injured during the 18 days of protests. “But while Qardawi commended the Egyptian protesters’ efforts, Abdul Shukor (Husin), who leads the council, said ‘rioting, causing disturbances and damaging public property are all forbidden by Islam. This also applies to any intention to topple a duly elected government by organising such demonstrations. “During the early period of Islam, preaching was done in secret and in private because the Muslims were threatened by the infidels. But eventually, Umar Al Khattab announced to his friends, ‘we must walk out in the open with our friends with pride and courage. We must demonstrate for Islam’,” said Anwar. “(Demonstrations) have occurred in our history before. But this fact has not yet reached the chairman of the council,” he said.

Yesterday, Perlis Mufti Juanda Jaya defended the fatwa council’s edict last week barring Muslims from participating in “unproductive” and unlawful assemblies, saying it was not specific to the April 28 Bersih rally which ended in violence. “In fact, the council did not focus on Bersih but all assemblies that bring damage. There is no scripture that bans assemblies to protest absolutely. But it may be haram because of other issues,” Juanda was quoted as saying in the Mingguan Malaysia newspaper. The fatwa council’s statement, which came a week after chaotic scenes in the city, was criticised by opposition leaders who said it was Umno’s ploy to stifle dissent and that it was police, accused of brutality against demonstrators calling for free and fair elections, who had violated the fatwa.

Tan Sri Abdul Shukor’s statement had come after Datuk Seri Najib Razak asserted that the rally was an attempt to oust the country’s duly elected government, a claim that has been echoed by former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Despite an initially peaceful start to the rally, Bersih’s third since 2007, police took action later that day which some civil society movements and media have condemned as more brutal than those employed during last July’s Bersih gathering. The April 28 rally, which saw tens of thousands gather at six different locations before heading to Dataran Merdeka, was peaceful until about 2.30pm when Bersih chief Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan asked the crowd to disperse. But her announcement was not heard by most of the crowd who continued to linger around the historic square which the court had already ruled as being inaccessible to the public over that particular weekend.

Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) initial joy at a larger crowd for this year’s Bersih rally turned sour after demonstrators broke down barricades and engaged in open battles with police yesterday, giving Umno hawks fodder ahead of coming elections. Barisan Nasional (BN) supporters spent the night flooding social media networks claiming that participants of the rally for free and fair elections, backed by the opposition, attacked police with missiles and even overturned a patrol car. It has put PR on the defensive, with PKR deputy president Azmin Ali telling The Malaysian Insider “Umno will try to link this to 1998,” a reference to claims that the Reformasi movement caused widespread street violence after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was sacked as deputy prime minister.

“This will be widely contested over the media the next couple of days,” said political analyst Ong Kian Ming. The UCSI lecturer told The Malaysian Insider that there was a “50-50” chance of a delay to polls, currently expected to be called by June, depending on the impact to Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s popularity with the international media playing a key role. The foreign press’ condemnation of the government’s crackdown on last July’s Bersih rally led the prime minister to announce a raft of reforms including a parliamentary select committee on electoral improvements and the Peaceful Assembly Act that came into force on Monday. But both have been criticised for being cosmetic and yesterday’s planned sit-in at Dataran Merdeka, which drew at least 25,000, was the first major test for the assembly law the Umno president says abides by “international norms.”

Initial international press reports have already been negative as police once again fired tear gas and water cannon at demonstrators. But the fact that protestors caused damage to persons and property when trying to force their way into the historic square will give BN some breathing space. Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein also insisted police acted with restraint, and other BN leaders will likely point to how just 388 had been arrested as of 9pm yesterday, about a quarter of the total number who were swept up in last year’s clampdown. Already, Bersih and PR leaders are distancing themselves from those who attacked police after Hishammuddin said at least 20 officers had sought hospital treatment. Bersih chief Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan conceded the violence may be a blow to the push for democratic reforms as some may feel the rally “had gone wrong.” But she called on the Najib administration to “go further and ask themselves why would the people be so prepared to put themselves in such a situation?”

After police fired tear gas and water cannon at demonstrators, some retaliated by attacking a police car whose driver tried to speed away but lost control and eventually crashed into a few rally-goers. They were prevented from further attacking the police officers but still turned the car on its side. Others later refused to disperse but began throwing broken bottles and concrete slabs at riot police and a convoy of police special forces ferrying KL mayor Tan Sri Ahmad Fuad Ismail in one of its cars. Windows of two cars were smashed, forcing the convoy to turn around and flee. Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political science professor Shamsul Adabi Mamat said the scenes were the result of the opposition’s desperation ahead of polls that must be called within a year. “Because the election is nearing, they (the opposition) must provoke and create an issue"

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