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Last Updated: Monday, 17 December 2007, 16:38 GMT
Malaysia Indians' charges dropped
Ethnic Indians protesting in Kuala Lumpur, 25/11
The Indian minority were protesting against perceived discrimination
The Malaysian authorities have dropped attempted murder charges against 31 ethnic Indians arrested after taking part in a large rally last month.

The men had been accused of attempting to kill a policeman at the rally.

The protests were intended to highlight perceived discrimination against ethnic Indians by the Malay-Muslim majority.

Five people had all their charges dropped. The other 26 were released on bail after agreeing to plead guilty to causing mischief and illegal assembly.

At least 8,000 people took part in the rallies in Kuala Lumpur in November which ended when police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators.

The protests were ostensibly to demand compensation from Britain to the descendents of Indians forcibly taken to Malaysia as indentured labourers in the 19th century.

But correspondents say the underlying goal was to highlight social inequalities between the mainly Hindu Indian minority, making up 8% of the population, and the Malay-Muslim majority.

Activists say that policies of granting jobs and economic advantages to the ethnic Malay majority means Indians often live in poverty.

The Malaysia government has rejected claims of unequal treatment.

'Abused powers'

Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail, who made the decision, told the judge: "I could be very strict but I don't think this is the time to be that strict."
Supporters of the five arrested Hindraf activists gather at Hindu temple near Kamunting Detention camp,
Hindraf supporters held a peaceful rally near the detention centre
"When we exercise the law ... we look at what is fair and just ... and in my judgment this is the fairest thing to do."

Opposition leaders had urged the authorities to drop the attempted murder charges while Lim Kit Siang, head of the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party, said he was "disgusted" that other charges had not been dropped, French news agency AFP reported.

"The very fact that the attorney-general had to drop the charge of attempted murder is proof that he abused his powers," he told Reuters news agency.

Five members of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), which organised the rally, remain in custody under a colonial law that allows indefinite imprisonment without trial.

On Sunday, their supporters held a peaceful protest at a temple near the detention centre where they are being held.

The bailed men will return to the court for sentencing on 27 December and could still face up to five years in prison.

SEE ALSO
Malaysia arrests ethnic Indians
13 Dec 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Malaysia charges ethnic Indians
04 Dec 07 |  Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Malaysia protests
25 Nov 07 |  In Pictures
Malaysian police break up rally
25 Nov 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Malaysia Hindu activists arrested
23 Nov 07 |  Asia-Pacific



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