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Malaysia: police fire tear gas, water cannons at huge demonstration

Authorities seek to quell a massive demonstration calling for political reforms.

Malaysia protest april 2012Enlarge
Hundreds of anti-government protestors march towards the historical Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur on April 28, 2012. Malaysian police fired teargas and water cannon as crowds of protesters demanding electoral reforms surged into a central square in Kuala Lumpur. The rally follows one that was crushed by police last July, when 1,600 people were arrested, and marks a major test for Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has sought to portray himself as a reformer ahead of widely expected polls. (Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

Malaysian police today fired tear gas and water cannons at a huge opposition rally in Kuala Lumpur, BBC News reported

Thousands of protesters, many wearing the signature yellow of the reform movement, gathered in Merdeka (Independence) Square in defiance of a ban on political demonstrations there, according to Agence-France Press

More from GlobalPost: Malaysia’s Arab Spring?

The protest, which one police official told BBC was some 25,000 strong, is one of the largest seen in the former British colony in decades.

Some 20 people were reportedly arrested as the government moved to disperse the crowds, according to BBC

Human Rights Watch's deputy Asia director Phil Robertson condemned the violence as proof that "the Malaysian government is once again showing its contempt for its people's basic rights and freedoms," reported Reuters

Demonstrators are demanding reforms of the country's electoral system ahead of coming elections, said BBC.

Reuters said the vote could be held as early as June, but today's events could delay the date. 

The government has come under criticism for its brutal crackdown on a pro-reform rally last July, said Reuters

Malaysia is predominantly Muslim but has a diverse population with a history of racial tension pitting the country's Chinese community -- about a quarter of the population -- against the ethnic Malays. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/120428/malaysia-police-fire-tear-gas-water-cannons-at-huge-demons