By Mohd Farhan Darwis
KUALA LUMPUR, April 30 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak accused organisers of Saturday’s Bersih rally of failing to keep their word to hold a peaceful “sit-in” at the Dataran Merdeka, which was cordoned off with razor wire, barricades and a court order banning people from it until tomorrow.
The rally for free and fair elections spiralled into chaos after demonstrators breached the barricades surrounding a section of the historic square and riot police forced them back with tear gas and water cannons.
The prime minister told a press conference last night that the electoral reform movement did not respect a court order banning the public from entering Dataran Merdeka over the weekend.
“The organisers promised the assembly would be peaceful and take a short amount of time. But they did not fulfil their promise,” Najib (picture) said after chairing an Umno supreme council meeting.
The Umno president said the rally-goers did not respect the rule of law by breaking through the barrier and attacking policemen.
“We regret the violence that occurred. This shows the culture of excessive violence by those involved,” he said, although he admitted that only a small number of participants had attacked police officers.
“Not all participants were violent but the way the demonstration ended tarnished the peaceful assembly and damaged the image of our country.
“The police were the victims. They became targets and were beaten,” Najib added.
Tens of thousands who attended the rally were dispersed by police with water cannons and tear gas after some rally-goers pushed through the barricades in front of Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) and tried to rush into Dataran Merdeka.
But a video has surfaced in which Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim appears to signal towards PKR deputy president Azmin Ali who gestures back and speaks to an Indian male who then pushes aside the barrier.
Police fired as far as the DBKL premises, which are across Jalan Parlimen, and the move broke up the crowd who fled helter-skelter but police chased them down at Jalan Tun Perak and Jalan Raja Laut.
Angry protestors later attacked a police car which then crashed into at least two people while trying to flee.
After an ambulance took away the injured policemen, the protestors flipped the car over on its side but then fled after tear gas was fired.
Despite most of the crowd dispersing, a pocket of 1,000 demonstrators then engaged in open battle with riot police near Masjid Jamek.
A police officer was seen dragging a man across the road, which resulted in Bersih supporters attacking the police with broken bottles, mineral water bottles and broken concrete slabs.
A convoy of police vehicles ferrying Mayor Tan Sri Ahmad Fuad Ismail in one of its cars was forced to make a U-turn near Masjid Jamek when met with a hostile reception from protestors who threw shoes and broken concrete slabs at them, smashing the windows of two cars.
Police also arrested over 500 protestors, about a third of those detained in a similar rally on July 9 last year where a clampdown by the government saw Najib’s administration being widely condemned by the international press.
Najib also promised last night the police and Home Ministry would investigate the matter as “it is the responsibility of the police to reveal what actually took place.”
“Police will not cover up anything including if there was misconduct on the part of their own personnel,” he added.
He said Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar would call a news conference today to explain further about the move to show the rally footage.
The prime minister also said that the rally was the first test for the police in translating the action stipulated under the new legislation following the political transformation implemented by the government, including repealing the Emergency Ordinance 1969 and the Internal Security Act 1960, and introducing the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012.