Malaysia: 10,000 protest for reforms despite government lockdown

Despite a massive government lockdown on Kuala Lumpur, thousands of people took to the streets of Malaysia's largest city Saturday to demand electoral reforms.

More than 10,000 demonstrators gathered in Kuala Lumpur, making it the biggest rally in the country in years, the Associated Press reports.

The protest, organized by a loose coalition of groups called Bersih, is directed at Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling coalition. The demonstrators are demanding that election laws be reformed and made more transparent ahead of national polls expected in 2012. Demanded reforms include efforts to ensure that voters cannot vote multiple times, AFP reports.

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The government declared the rally illegal and imposed a lockdown on the city. Police sealed off main roads leading into the city Friday night and checked each vehicle for protesters. Police also closed train stations and deployed trucks with water cannons in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

In "Operation Erase Bersih," the federal police arrested 514 people in an effort to prevent them from protesting, AP reports.

The government also warned people not to take part in the rally.

"The public is reminded not to be involved in any demonstration," according to a statement by the federal police force. "Stern action will be taken against those who disobey."

Nonetheless, demonstrators marched in defiance of the government, it states.

As they marched, they chanted "Long live the people."

"We are fighting for free and fair elections," Ambiga Sreenevasan, head of Bersih coalition, told Reuters. "The government uses might, we use our right. Our right will eventually prevail."

Rally organizers told AP the police fired tear gas at one group of protesters, but there were no reported injuries.

A large turnout at Saturday's rally could show that the ruling National Front coalition was losing ground, and the prime minister might then reconsider calling for a snap election, Reuters reports.