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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 December 2007, 13:26 GMT
Malaysia charges ethnic Indians
Malaysian riot police (File picture)
Malaysian riot police used tear gas on the protesters
Malaysia has charged 26 ethnic Indians with attempted murder in connection with an anti-discrimination rally last month, the defendants' lawyer has said.

The accused pleaded not guilty to charges of trying to kill a policeman during the rally in the capital Kuala Lumpur on 25 November, the lawyer said.

At least 8,000 people protested against what they saw as the unfair treatment of Indians in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators.

"It's very shocking," Manoharan Malayalam, the defendants' lawyer, told the Associated Press news agency.

"This is a clear victimisation of the Indians by bringing forth a malicious prosecution that is race-based," he said.

Map of Malaysia

But Malaysia's Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail said that the case had "nothing to do with race".

"We follow the law. It applies to everyone under the sun," he told AP.

The attorney general added that the policeman received injuries after being attacked with bricks and iron pipes.

If found guilty, the defendants could face up to 20 years in prison.

'Discrimination'

The ostensible aim of the rally in Kuala Lumpur was to call on the British government to pay $4 trillion (2 trillion) in compensation to the two million ethnic Indians in Malaysia whose ancestors were taken to the country as indentured labourers in the 19th century.

But the real goal of the demonstrators was to highlight the alleged discrimination of minority Indians in Malaysia, the BBC's Robin Brant in Kuala Lumpur says.

Ethnic Indians - mainly Hindus - form one of Malaysia's largest minority groups.

Activists say that many Hindus live in poverty, partly because of policies granting jobs and economic advantages to the ethnic Malay Muslim majority.

The government rejected claims of unfair discrimination.

SEE ALSO
Malaysian police break up rally
25 Nov 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Malaysia Hindu activists arrested
23 Nov 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Malaysia seeks to avoid faith row
07 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Pressure on multi-faith Malaysia
16 May 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Malaysia: Islam and multi-culturalism
07 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Malaysia
18 Oct 06 |  Country profiles

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