by Lee Shi-Ian & Muzliza Mustafa
The Malaysian Insider
December 31, 2013
Thousands defied Putrajaya and rallied at Dataran Merdeka tonight against the rising cost of goods and services, as police looked on after warning for days earlier it was a gathering to topple the ruling coalition.
The boisterous crowd which had streamed to the fringe of the square from Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Masjid India and Central Market was largely peaceful, but several lines of police officers stood between them and revellers who had gathered in the square for the national new year’s eve countdown celebration.
“Inside is for those who want to celebrate New Year’s Eve. If you want to protest, you may do so on the other side,” said Dang Wangi OCPD Zainulddin Ahmad.
However, police, just after 11pm, relented as the streaming crowd breached the police and City Hall barricades to join the revelers in the square.
Just before midnight the concert at the Dataran Merdeka was halted in view of the surge of protestors. City Hall personnel formed a line in front of the stage, and the lights were turned off.
Despite a pledge to stay apolitical, the crowd repeatly chanted slogans against the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Umno and his Barisan Nasional coalition partners
Several opposition politicians present lending their support included P. Kasthuri, Nik Nazmi, Steven Sim and Teoh Kok Seong.
PAS supporters sat in a circle at the Jalan Parlimen-Jalan Raja intersection and listened to speeches from several party leaders instead of joining the throng that made it to Dataran Merdeka.
PAS central committee member Dzulkefly Ahmad explained how the public will be burdened by recent government policies, while vice-president Salahudin Ayub said that the people have shown courage by attending the rally despite threats from the government.
“There is no way for the government to ignore voices from all walks of life,” he said.
A grandmother who wished to be known only as Julie said she was compelled to join the protest to urge the government to respect the people’s wishes.
“The rakyat is suffering. The government cannot play deaf now,” she said, holding a sign stating “Respect the voice of the people” in front of the police barricade.
The protesters had gathered earlier at the Sogo shopping centre in Kuala Lumpur with most clad in black, with some wearing the masks of English revolutionary Guy Fawkes, who has now become a global symbol of public revolt against the establishment.
However, the mood remained carnival and traders who had set up stalls in the vicinity of the Dataran Merdeka are doing a brisk business.
The crowd chanted “Bangkit, bangkit. Bangkit rakyat.”
At Dataran Merdeka, a 1,000 strong crowd has begun to gather, also voicing their displeasure at the rising cost of living. A group of people were seen attempting to break through police barricades at Jalan Raja to get to Dataran Merdeka.
The protest is being organised by a group calling itself Gerakan Turun Kos Sara Hidup or Turun
Suaram, who has promised legal aid to any protestor detained by the police, had 10 personnel deployed in Dataran Merdeka
“We are here to check if there is any crackdown by the police and will provide legal assistance to those protesters who are arrested,” said its coordinator Syukri Razab, adding that several lawyers were on stand-by to help.
The mass protest was prompted by the various recent increase in the prices of goods and services, such as the cutting of fuel and sugar subsidies, while other hikes are looming for next year, including electricity tariffs, assessment rates for KL properties, public transport charges and toll rates for major highways.
Police have been on high alert after claims circulated online purportedly claiming the intention of the protest is to topple the government.
Police said four non-governmental organisations (NGO) – Gerakan Turun Kos Sara Hidup (Turun), Solidarity Mahasiswa Malaysia (SMM), PKR-backed group Jingga 13 and youth group Solidariti Anak Muda Malaysia (SAMM) – as being the organisational and motivational force behind tonight’s protest.
SMM chairman Mohamed Bukhairy Sofian, however, maintained that the gathering is to protest against the rising cost of living, and not to overthrow the Barisan Nasional (BN) government.
Anti-price hike movement Gerakan Turun Kos Sara Hidup (Turun) chairman Azan Safar had clarified also last week that the price hike protest is not linked to another gathering allegedly aimed at ousting the government. – December 31, 2013.