(Reuters) - Malaysian police fired tear gas and water cannon in clashes with thousands of protesters demanding electoral reforms on Saturday, raising the risk of a political backlash that could delay national polls which had been expected as early as June.
Riot police reacted after some protesters among the crowd of at least 25,000 tried to break through barriers, in defiance of a court order banning them from entering the city's historic Merdeka (Independence) Square. They fired dozens of tear gas rounds and chased protesters through nearby streets.
Protesters also battled with police at a train station nearby, throwing bottles and chairs at officers who responded by firing tear gas rounds. A police car was over turned by angry protesters after it hit demonstrators. Most of the protesters had dispersed by early evening but sporadic clashes with police continued.
"They (the police) asked the crowd to disperse but did not give enough warning," said Aminah Bakri, 27, with tears streaming down her face from the gas.
"They do not care."
The police reaction could carry risks for Prime Minister Najib Razak if it is seen as too harsh, possibly forcing him to delay elections that must be called by next March but which many observers had expected for June. Najib's approval rating tumbled after July last year when police were accused of a heavy handed response to the last major electoral reform rally by the Bersih (Clean) group. It has since rebounded to nearly 70 percent.
Some media sites put the number of protesters as high as 100,000, which would make it by far the biggest since "Reformasi" (Reform) demonstrations in 1998 against then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Al Jazeera reports: Click here
News and photos credit: Reuters