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Tuesday, 13 March, 2001, 14:00 GMT
Malaysia clampdown after ethnic unrest
Malaysian police
Police presence is high in the suburb where trouble broke out
Malaysia has moved to contain the tension following bloody ethnic clashes over the weekend at a poor Kuala Lumpur suburb, placing a ban on all public gatherings in a central state and arresting a total of nearly 200 people.


It is not a racial conflict ... and I do not regard it as a prelude to a bigger security problem

Defence Minister
The clashes between ethnic Malays and Indians at Kampung Medan - in which six people were killed and dozens injured - were triggered by a petty neighbourhood quarrel.

Amid rising tension in the city, the worst in decades, police arrested two men for spreading rumours.

State police chief Deputy Commissioner Datuk Nik Ismail Nik Yusof warned the authorities viewed such activity very seriously and said security forces had investigated 30 rumours.

Police have also seized scores of weapons used in the sporadic fighting over the past few days, including home-made bombs, machetes, knives, swords, steel pipes and axes.

Indians in Malaysia
Ethnic Indians are among the poorest in the country
The clashes, which are rare, have sent shockwaves in this country of simmering ethnic tensions. Fears of racial riots still remain following bloody ethnic clashes in the capital in 1969 in which hundreds were killed.

The government has called for tolerance and moved to play down the racial element, stressing that misunderstandings between residents were to blame.

"It is not a racial conflict ... and I do not regard it as a prelude to a bigger security problem," Defence Minister Najib Tun Razak said.

Poverty

Observers have highlighted that the squatter settlement in which the violence took place is beset with socio-economic problems.

The Star newspaper said some villagers had complained for years about the lack of amenities, including water and electricity, as well as rubbish-strewn streets and clogged drains.

It said some districts had become notorious for criminal gangs and other violence and drug addiction.

Malay woman
Relations between ethnic Muslim Malays and Chinese and Indians is a sensitive issue
"Kampung Medan should not be a flashpoint," The Star said.

Opposition Democratic Action Party secretary-general Kerk Kim Hock has called for multi-party talks to halt tension and the "fragility of ethnic relations."

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has also called for people not to allow hearsay to whip up emotions.

"Check first whenever you hear such rumours. Call the police, even if it is the 1,000th time you are calling them," he was quoted as saying in The Star.

Malays make up just over half the population, ethnic Chinese a third and Indians eight percent among the country's 22 million people.

The Indian community, mostly descendants of labourers brought in to work on rubber plantations during Colonial rule, is among the poorest in the country.

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See also:

11 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Police clampdown on Malaysia violence
18 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Row over Malay privileges
23 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Race issue clouds Malaysian festivities
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