Cops blame unruly protesters for cancelled new year countdown

Kuala Lumpur police chief Datuk Mohmad Salleh (right) with four machetes and three knives believed to be linked to the protest. — Picture by Zurairi AR
Kuala Lumpur police chief Datuk Mohmad Salleh (right) with four machetes and three knives believed to be linked to the protest. — Picture by Zurairi AR

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 1 — City police ended last night’s New Year’s eve countdown at Dataran Merdeka abruptly to prevent unruly protesters from causing more chaos, Kuala Lumpur police chief Datuk Mohmad Salleh said today.

According to Mohmad, the protesters attempted to climb onto the stage after they breached police barriers and swarmed into the historic square, joining the crowd of revelers who had gathered for the national countdown celebration.

“We had made the decision to stop the climax of fireworks to control the situation,” Mohmad told reporters at the Kuala Lumpur police headquarters here.

Police alleged that protesters even threw bottles towards a performer onstage, and towards Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Ahmad Phesal Talib when he made a speech later.

“There was an attempt to climb the stage but we managed to control the situation. That was why we stopped it so that things would not turn worse,” he added.

At the cusp of 2014, thousands of protesters comprising mostly tertiary students rallied against rising cost of living near Dataran Merdeka last night.

At 11pm, the boisterous crowd made it past several lines of police and DBKL barricades and streamed into the historic square to join the rest of the revellers at the ongoing national new year’s eve countdown celebration.

About 30 minutes later, the state-organised concert came to an abrupt end and those attending the celebration left the venue even as protesters continued to linger on, filling up nearly the entire stretch of the square.

Police said today that eight reports were lodged over the rally, including two by police officers who were injured on duty—one from a can thrown at him in the Bukit Bintang Area, and another who suffered wounds after he was knocked down by protesters who rushed the barriers.

Despite that, Mohmad refuted that one of PDRM’s officers was the one bleeding profusely in a photo that was earlier posted on its Facebook page.

The police has since apologised on the social media page for its gaffe and taken down the photo, following brickbats from the public over the misinformation.

City police also showed reporters four machetes and three knives found near the Dayabumi complex last night, which they believe to be linked to the rally.

According to Mohmad, the weapons were enclosed in an umbrella left on a flower bed near the building, before they were discovered by an auxiliary policeman who became suspicious over the items.

Police had said late last night that participants of the anti-price hike rally will be investigated for possible violations of the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) 2012.

Dang Wangi police chief Asst Commissioner Zainuddin Ahmad also expressed his disappointment that the police force’s “patience” during the event was taken for granted by those attending the rally.

Police estimated 5,000 participants attended the rally, in addition to between 20,000 and 25,000 New Year’s Eve revellers last night, instead of the ten-fold 50,000 figure given by the organiser Gerakan Turun Kos Sara Hidup.

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