He is not only weak, but..
Rakyat diajak segera ganti kerajaan tidak bertamadun
PutraJaya, Reuters, Dec 12 - Malaysia denied on Wednesday it was a police state, despite launching the biggest crackdown on anti-government activists in a decade.
Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told Reuters the government was merely trying to ensure public safety in enforcing a blanket ban on street protests that has prompted opposition groups to accuse it of political repression ahead of a possible early election.
"We have never been a police state," he said in an interview in his office in the sprawling the administrative capital of Putrajaya.
"To say Malaysia is heading into a police state is an untrue statement and is an exaggeration, especially under our current PM. He is very careful, open and transparent. I think there is a limit to everything."
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi raised the country's expectations for reform when he took office in 2003, vowing to fight corruption and usher in more transparent, open government.
Four years later, frustrations at the slow progress of his reform agenda, coupled with discontent over rising living costs, have boiled over into the biggest street protests in nine years.
More than 20,000 people defied riot police and took to the streets of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, in two separate protests over the past five weeks, on issues that chimed with the clamour for reform: fairer politics and more equal race relations.
The last major rally, staged by more than 10,000 ethnic Indians complaining of racial discrimination, drew world attention, particularly from India, whose prime minister voiced sympathy for the plight of the Indian diaspora in Malaysia.
Syed Hamid, who now has the job of explaining Malaysia's actions to the world, said the government tolerated criticism but street protests risked public security and stability.
"You have to distinguish between riotous behaviour and open and transparent discussion," he said. "There is no problem with open and transparent discussion."
He also showed irritation at a media report that the U.S. State Department had also expressed criticism of the crackdown.
"If you look at every developed country, they don't tolerate riotous behaviour," he said, citing the large deployments of riot police in Western capitals during international summits such as the Asia Pacific Economic Forum and the World Trade Organisation.
"During APEC or WTO meetings, they close up roads in order not to allow demonstrators. We are (doing) nothing more than that."
Washington said Kuala Lumpur should allow freedom of expression and peaceful assemblies.
"We have repeatedly raised with Malaysian authorities our belief that citizens of any country should be allowed to peacefully assemble and express their views," Nancy Beck, U.S. State Department spokeswoman said in a remark originally reported by AFP.
"We also stated in our human rights report our belief that the Malaysian government places significant restrictions on the right to assemble peacefully."
Opposition parties and non-governmental bodies issued a joint statement on Wednesday seeking an urgent meeting with Abdullah to discuss the "recent crises" and press for national unity.
"We intend to purse the agenda of national unity and reconciliation ..., press on with our demands for free and fair elections, and work towards resolving the serious national problems we face," said de facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
The risk of street protests turning into riots is a real fear among many Malaysians, particularly those who lived through the last major eruption of racial violence in Kuala Lumpur in 1969.
Hundreds died in those riots between ethnic Malays, who make up most of the population, and ethnic Chinese. The current prime minister played a leading role in the immediate aftermath of that crisis to find a political solution to the racial troubles.
But the opposition accuses Abdullah now of using public order and the memory of 1969 as an excuse to stifle peaceful dissent.
In seeking to protect public security, police moved last weekend in the early morning to halt an annual human-rights march by just 60 people in the near-deserted streets of Kuala Lumpur.
Syed Hamid accused Anwar, sacked and jailed after he fell out with the then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1998, of instigating and organising the protests.
"When you start to instigate and you start to throw aspersion that can cause people to get emotional ... to organise demonstrations is not good. We have been very tolerant of him."