Mar 7, 09 3:05pm
Police came down hard on some 8,000 people taking part in a protest march from Masjid Negara to Istana Negara in Kuala Lumpur this afternoon.
They cordoned off the road leading to the palace, firing rounds of tear gas at the crowd as they approached the palace.
The march was organised by the coalition against the teaching of science and maths in English (GMP).
GMP, known in its Malay name as Gerakan Mansuhkan PPSMI, is a coalition of 14 NGOs. Some of its pro-tem committee members include opposition politicians.
Two GMP leaders - national laureate A Samad Said and former Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka director Hassan Ahmad - managed to get past police cordon to hand the coalition’s memorandum to the king.
“The police were very cooperative in allowing us to hand our memorandum to a palace official,” Hassan told reporters.
Samad (middle in photo), who is 76 years old, also marched from Masjid Negara to the palace.
He was seen choking from the tear gas and had to be aided by several individuals towards the palace.
“This is what we have to go through in order to save our language,” Samad told reporters.
The memorandum states that the people are seeking royal intervention on the controversial policy, which is said to be implemented at the expense of mother tongue education.
Protesters, however, were treated less cordially by the police.
Protesters in '152' T-shirts
The march started at the Masjid Negara at 2pm sharp after zohor prayers and protesters overpowered a dozen riot police who tried to seal off the entrance of the mosque.
Many protesters were donning T-shirts with the words 152, in reference to Article 152 of the Federal Constitution which states that Bahasa Melayu is the national language.
The crowd chanted “Save mother language” and “Abolish PPSMI”.
At 2.40pm, the first round of tear gas was fired from the inter-section between Jalan Syed Putra and Jalan Mahameru, a stone’s throw away from the palace which was guarded by a dozen of riot police and two water cannons.
A handful of protesters reacted by charging at the riot police who fired the projectiles.
Eyewitness reports of at least one riot policeman being injured while his shield was smashed to bits.
This was followed by several dozen volleys of tear gas fired on the protesters scattered throughout the vicinity. Motorist trapped in the traffic gridlock were seen choking in their vehicles.
At 3.15pm, several hundred protesters retreated to the National Mosque where more tear gas were fired. Chemical-laced water cannons were also used.
Several arrests were made though the actual number cannot be ascertained at time of writing.
There are reports that as many as 124 people were detained.
Despite failing to gather near the palace, PKR supreme council member Badrul Hisham Shaharin, who was among the protesters, said that GMP had achieved its objective today.
“We have done everything to show that the public rejects this policy (to teach science and maths in English), but the leders pretend to be deaf.
“So this rally is a show of force that the people will not keep silent about this issue,” Badrul Hisham told Malaysiakini.
IGP: We had to disperse crowd
The teaching of Science and Maths in English was controversially implemented in 2003 by then Prime Minsiter Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Many linguist and teachers have complained that the new policy was flawed and was especially detrimental to rural students who have limited grasp of English.
Meanwhile, he Star quoted Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan as saying in a report today that during police discussions with GMP, it was decided there would not be any rally.
“They agreed to send representatives into the Istana after zohor prayers but when political parties like PAS and PKR got involved, it became an illegal gathering and demonstration.
“We have no choice but to use tear gas to disperse the crowd who refused to listen to police warnings,” he said.
- Reporting by Andrew Ong, Jimadie Shah Othman, Abdul Rahim Sabri and Lee Way Loon.