Hundreds of thousands in Malaysia protest against government in buildup to elections

The Philippine Star

KUALA LUMPUR (Xinhua) - Hundreds of thousands marched to Malaysia's historical Independence Stadium in downtown Kuala Lumpur on Saturday in a colorful, opposition-backed rally counting down to a general election due before mid-2013.

The protestors were clad in yellow, green and at least five other different colors, each representing a rights group advocating causes that ranging from clean electoral roll, environmental rights, fair royalty payments to oil-producing states to the abolishment of higher education student loan.

They held placards and flags bearing logos of rights groups and political parties.

Police put the number of turnout at 40,000.

The rally, the People's Uprising Assembly, represents an opportunity for the opposition to boost the morale of its supporters as it sought to build momentum towards the country's 13th general election.

Organizers of the rally drew cheers and applauses from the crowd when they called for supporters to overthrow the ruling coalition, National Front.

"I understand your rage. That is why the People's Alliance vow that we will not allow bribery and robbery against our beloved people... We plead to you to give us a chance, so that the people' s voices will become the voices of the rulers of this nation," opposition coalition People Alliance's leader, Anwar Ibrahim, addressed the crowd.

He promised to improve people's livelihood, reduce the cost of living such as lowering the price of petrol and providing free tertiary education by abolishing the study loans.

"This is the spirit of the people voicing out, we have to change the corrupted government to a fair one that fights for its citizen," a protestor who identified himself as Aizad told Xinhua.

"I have always seen archive footage of when the country's independence is declared here and I am feeling it now the true freedom," another protestor said.

"We feel proud listening to the comments by Anwar and other leaders and we hope that we can topple the government," he added.

Authorities have permitted the rally to be held at the stadium, where Malaysia's founding father declared the nation's independence in 1957, but blocked a few roads leading towards the stadium for safety concerns.

Protestors dispersed peacefully at 5 p.m. as police helped direct the traffic  a stark contrast from the scenes of previous rallies including the most recent last April where clashes between police and protestors left numerous people injured and infrastructure damaged in the city.

Police had been come under fire then for assaulting journalists and destroying their equipment when covering the rally for clean electoral roll.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Myhyiddin Yassin had earlier rebuked Saturday's rally as having selfish agenda.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, meanwhile, had a political rally of his own to attend.

At a pro-Najib gathering organized by a National Front ally party near Kuala Lumpur, the premier had promised to improve the lives of ethnic minorities in the country if his administration stays in power.

Najib's popularity dropped to 63 percent from 65 percent last year, according to a report released by independent pollster Merdeka Center on Thursday.

The coming polls would be a cutthroat fight between the opposition and the governing coalition after the latter was dealt the worst blow in history by losing five states and a two-third parliamentary majority in the 2008 election.   











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