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Hrkh: Thousands Stage Highway Showdown in Rare Display of Courage
By Abd Rahman Koya

10/11/2000 8:48 am Fri

Fwd: From Latest Harakah Print Edition

The following is one version of eyewitness report, which appears in the latest issue of Harakah (Nov 16-30), which comes out of the press today. The issue is filled with photos of police brutality and still images of police indulging in the orgy of vandalism captured on video.

Thousands stage highway showdown in rare display of courage

by Abd Rahman Koya

Tens of thousands of people braved police brutality and acidic liquid charge as they remained defiant in the face of attempts to prevent them from attending the planned "Gathering of 100,000 Citizens" at Jalan Kebun, Shah Alam.

Witnesses said more than 2,000 policemen, including the green-uniformed military police and the notorious Federal Reserve Unit (FRU), were deployed to crush the peaceful gathering. Hours before the event, police imposed a virtual curfew at several spots in Klang and Shah Alam. The exit to Jalan Kebun was barricaded, while a group from the police Special Task Force (UTK) was despatched to swoop on Jalan Kebun site, arresting randomly about six people.

The police clampdown led to fears among organisers that the rally had to be called off, but four top leaders from PAS, keADILan, PRM and DAP refused to budge. The gathering went ahead.

The sight of vehicles by the hundreds congregating at several spots at the Kesas-Plus highway prompted the police to increase their presence at several roadblocks.

The determination of people to attend despite the continued warnings forced the police to resort to what was once unthinkable - a total closure of the Kesas highway. By afternoon, staff at the Kemuning junction toll-collecting booths were seen leaving their booths.

At 2.30 pm, the first convoy arrived, and in half an hour, the number of cars swelled to more than 2,000, parked along one lane of each side of the four-lane highway. By 3.00 pm, the crowd was at its peak - with vehicles taking up all four lanes of the highway causing a complete standstill of the day's traffic. The variety of cars, jeeps and vans - Mercedes, Protons, Volkswagons, Volvo, etc - suggested that the crowd came from all economic backgrounds. But the great majority of them were Malays - indicating the continued Malay-Islamic support for jailed leader Anwar Ibrahim and their hatred towards UMNO and its president Mahathir Mohamad. So too were the banners and flags that accompanied them - one banner read: "Pembohong Muka Selamba" ("Liar with a straight face"), referring presumably to Mahathir, while another screamed "Destroy Mahathir, Free Anwar!".


As thousands of vehicles jammed both sides of the highway stretching about 5 to 7 kilometres, people began to come out, filling every empty space and gaps. Passers-by who were not involved in the rally sounded their horns as a show of support. The scene turned out like carnival - with hundreds of youths singing and chanting anti-Mahathir and 'free Anwar' slogans, as thousands of others waited in their vehicles.

By now the highway had been turned into what looked like Malaysia's largest open car park. The crowd refused to move, creating a prelude to an impending showdown with more than 200 FRU personnels who were waiting for the go-ahead signal by the commanding officers.

What followed next was a brutal disregard for any law or order by the police. Tear gas cannisters were released into the air toward the crowd, but the police's sharp-shooting skill was exposed for all to see when they did not reach the target but instead the cannisters landed at the near-by Bukit Rimau construction site where about 40 Indonesian workers had been squatting to watch the rare display of Malaysian courage. The Indonesians had to flee for their safety.

The police then launched another round of tear gas attacks, this time affecting hundreds who were in the front. The FRU then moved in, sending people scurrying in all directions - some into their vehicles, others to near by bushes while others to the construction site.


The police - themselves seen suffocating due to the poisonous tear gas effect - then began beating up whoever came their way. One of the first to be severely injured was an Indian man, who had earlier confronted the police in his van. He was seen kicked and punched before being led away to the truck.

Several others appeared to have abandoned their vehicles - some even sacrificed their Protons and parked them haphazardly on the highway in an attempt to prevent water cannon trucks from moving in.

As the crowd ran to a safe distance to avoid being arrested, the FRU retreated, only to be followed again by the crowd with slogans.

'Re-enforcement crowd'

As the chaos began to subside, another large convoy of vehicles were seen arriving as if to provide 're-enforcement' for the earlier crowd that were scattered. This prompted the police to move back to the toll plaza.

Strengthened by the arrival of four Barisan Alternatif leaders - Fadzil Noor, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Dr Syed Husin Ali and Lim Kit Siang - the crowd regrouped. For more than 20 minutes, the leaders, including keADILan's Ezam Noor and PAS's Mahfuz Omar took turns to address the crowd. The speeches were nevertheless briefly interrupted with shouts that suspected plainclothes police personnel were mingling in the crowd disguised as photographers and BA supporters. One verbal provocation by a plainclothes policeman finally sparked outrage as scores of people chased him away.

Even as the bell signalling that the FRU were ready to attack was sounded, the people stayed put. Just as organising committee chairman Shaari Sungip announced that representatives were being sent to inform the police officers that they were about to disperse and relocate the rally at the PAS headquarters in Taman Melewar, Gombak, shots of tear gas were heard, sending women and children scurrying for cover. One Proton car defiantly parked in the middle of the highway however prevented the water cannon truck's advance.

Numbers matter

As with many other reformasi demonstrations, the November 5 showdown also has its share of different estimates of crowd size. The predictable pro-UMNO dailies played down the crowd size either by keeping silent about the size of the crowd (such as New Straits Times and Berita Harian) or by reducing its number to a mere 1,000 (such as the Star and Utusan Malaysia). The Agence France Presse (AFP) was less conservative, adding the word "more than" to the number 1,000" - at the same time contradicting its own photographs. One Chinese daily, with colour photos of the event splashed across its pages, puts the number at 100,000, while independent online daily stopped at 5,000, before revising it to 10,000.

A simple mathematical explanation however suggests that even by the most conservative estimate, the crowd could number anywhere between 30,000 to 70,000. If it is assumed that one vehicle (car, bus or van) occupies 3 metres, there should be more than 1,500 vehicles stretching 5 kilometres at each lane of the four laned highway. This brings the number of vehicles to 6,000. If assuming there are three passengers in each vehicle (which was the case, although most of the vehicles including vans and buses were filled), there are 18,000 people. And this is only for one side of the highway. Also excluded here are those who came in hundreds of motorcycles. Also excluded were the crowds at different spots - near Sri Andalas in Klang where about 3,000 people had been converging at a football field before organisers directed them to proceed to the Kemuning toll, only to be blocked midway.

Police vandalism

When acidic liquid was sprayed, the four BA leaders were quickly evacuated to a safe spot, as hundreds of armed police moved in and began damaging vehicles and overturning motorcyles. Harakah's web-tv cameraman, Mat Zahari Ali, who was also hurt, managed to capture police vandalism on tape. Later, several plainclothes policemen confiscated photo diskettes in a digital camera belonging to

Images of police brutality and blatant vandalism were however successfully taped on video. It shows FRU men retreating to the toll plaza after arresting scores of people - some bleeding from wounds inflicted by police kicking and beatings - while kicking down motorcycles and smashing windscreens of stalled cars. These orgy of destruction was helplessly watched by thousands of people who shouted abuse at the police vandals.

By 6.00 pm, the scene of the incident was back to normal as people began to disperse. Photographs taken by malaysiakini and harakahdaily as well as amateur cameramen revealed plainclothes policemen taking the liberty to damage abandoned cars and motorcycles. Later, the vehicles were towed away using police tow trucks.