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Sunday, September 27, 1998 Published at 05:34 GMT 06:34 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Riot police seal off Kuala Lumpur square

Police have resorted to water cannon several times

Riot police have sealed off the main square in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, to prevent a repeat of last Sunday's demonstration against the Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad.

BBC Correspondent in Kuala Lumpur David Willis reports on a day of unrest
Several thousand supporters of the arrested former Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, clashed with the police when they tried to march on the square again on Saturday - further protests were planned for Sunday.

On Saturday, police used water cannon to break up the rally in the central Merdeka Square and some arrests were made.

Such protests, until recently unheard of in Malaysia, have become a regular event since Mr Anwar was arrested on 2 September after a long-running dispute over economic policy. The demonstrations escalated after his arrest last Sunday.

BBC's David Willis: Police won't give Anwar's whereabouts
The Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, expressed concern later on Saturday that foreign countries could impose sanctions in response to the arrest of Mr Ibrahim.

In comments quoted by the national news agency, Dr Mahathir said some countries wanted the Malaysian economy to fail and could use the political conflict as an opportunity to intervene.

"They hope they could use this, firstly, maybe, in an attempt to defend Anwar," Dr Mahathir said.

"But I think it is more an attempt to make us fail in our efforts to insulate the economy, especially measures of capital control."


In the latest gathering of Mr Anwar's supporters, several thousand activists gathered near the central Merdeka Square, even though police had blocked all roads leading to it.

Standing along barricades, they chanted "Reformasi", the rallying call for the protest movement which Mr Anwar has inspired since he was sacked by Dr Mahathir earlier this month.

After appealing to the crowds to leave, riot police charged the demonstrators and used water cannon to disperse them.

Dozens are reported to have been arrested.

Detention causes international concern

[ image: Anwar's arrest has escalated the protests]
Anwar's arrest has escalated the protests
Mr Anwar is being held under the draconian Internal Security Act, which allows detention without charge.

At least 16 people, many of them governing party members who backed Anwar, are being held under the Act.

Mr Anwar has not been allowed to see his lawyer or his family. Complaints about his treatment have been made to the Malaysian government by the United States, Australia and the UK.

On Friday, the prime minister said Mr Anwar would be brought to court only when the protests stopped.

Dr Mahathir issued the warning after riot police entered the national mosque in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, to break up an anti-government protest by several thousand people.

Lawyers for Mr Anwar, who was arrested on suspicion of sexual misconduct and inciting public unrest, say they still do not know what charges he is likely to face.

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