KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) Nov 15 - Malaysia's foreign minister Thursday rejected calls by an international human rights group for an investigation into the use of tear gas and police force against a rare opposition-backed rally for electoral reforms.
The appeal by New York-based Human Rights Watch came as Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi praised police action to break up the demonstration, which had been declared illegal. Malaysian law prohibits public gathering of five or more people without a police permit.
Saturday's rally was the biggest political demonstration in Malaysia in nearly a decade. Organizers said 30,000 people took part while the police put the number at 4,000. The last time so many people poured into the streets was in September 1998 when supporters of former deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim protested his dismissal from the Cabinet and ruling party by then-leader Mahathir Mohamad.
Human Rights Watch said police kicked and beat at least seven people, and dozens of those detained were denied legal counsel. Police released all of those detained after taking their statements. Police did not immediately respond to these allegations.
Human Rights Watch urged the government to set up an independent commission to probe the use of chemical-laced water cannons and tear gas to disperse demonstrators. Police also detained 245 people.
«If there was any doubt that the prime minister is more worried about political power than political rights, it was washed away with his defense of police actions against the marchers,» Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
Abdullah's remark was «as good as saying outright that he condoned violence against political critics. He should rectify this impression by immediately calling for a Royal Commission to independently examine the facts,» Adams said.
Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said democracy mustn't be equated with lawlessness and told foreign rights groups to butt out, national news agency Bernama reported.
«Malaysia will govern the country in its own way. You still have to abide by the law, so I don't think any ... human rights body can tell other countries what it should do,» he was quoted as saying.
An aide to Syed Hamid confirmed his comments but couldn't provide further details.
Other government leaders have also defended police action, saying tear gas and water cannons were used as a last report after the crowd ignored warnings to disperse.
The rally was organized by some 70 non-governmental organizations and opposition parties, which demanded the removal of phantom voters from electoral rolls, a crackdown on government workers using absentee ballots, access to state-controlled media by all political parties, and an end to vote-buying and other irregularities.
The government has denied election irregularities, saying electoral rolls have been cleaned up and that the polling system was transparent. Malaysia's Parliament is dominated by the ruling National Front coalition while opposition parties make up a small minority.