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Sunday, 11 March, 2001, 07:23 GMT
Police clampdown on Malaysia violence
Burning wreckage
There have been several days of violence
By South-east Asia correspondent Simon Ingram

Tension remains high in a squatter settlement on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, following clashes between rival ethnic groups which have left at least five people dead.

More than 150 people have been arrested in the troubled squatter district of Kampung Medan since trouble first erupted on Thursday.

Machetes, knives and other weapons have been seized.

Dr Mahathir
Dr Mahathir has says the trouble is not racially motivated
The authorities have played down suggestions that the trouble, which was triggered by a petty row between Malay Muslims and ethnic Indians, is related to ethnic tensions.

Journalists who toured the area on Sunday morning say a heavy police presence, backed up by water cannon, remains in place.

Machete-wielding youths

The authorities are desperate to avoid any repetition of the ugly clashes of the past few days.

Almost all the casualties have been ethnic Indians, members of Malaysia's third largest racial group.

Community leaders have accused the police force of failing to protect them from the gangs of machete-wielding Malay youths blamed for carrying out a series of cold-blooded attacks.

Malay groups in turn say the Indians were responsible for provoking the trouble. Some families have moved out of the area fearing for their safety.

Racial motive denied

Government leaders have sought to play down the extent of the disturbances. Sunday's Malaysian newspapers quote the Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, as saying that it was wrong to describe the violence as racially motivated.

But when people start spreading rumours that Indians are attacking Malays, then people come out and clashes happen, Mr Mahathir said.

Ever since bloody riots between Malays and ethnic Chinese in 1969, the government has regarded its record of maintaining racial harmony as one of its proudest achievements.

These incidents are a reminder that while Malaysia's problems are nowhere near as severe as those of neighbouring Indonesia, ethnic tensions still lurk beneath the surface.

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