Malaysian Activists Vow to Hold Rally Despite Government Opposition

Posted July 8th, 2011 at 6:25 am (UTC-5)
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Malaysian electoral reform activists are pledging to carry on with a scheduled rally in Kuala Lumpur Saturday, defying attempts by authorities to keep the demonstrators out of the city.

Leaders of Bersih, a coalition of more than 60 non-governmental groups, say they will go ahead with the rally at the city's iconic Merdeka Stadium, even though the government has refused to issue the necessary permit. The coalition had reached an agreement with Malaysia's constitutional monarch to hold the rally in the stadium instead of the streets, in order to prevent a clash with police.

Police announced Thursday that major roads into Kuala Lumpur would be blocked for nearly a full day beginning at midnight Friday. Authorities have also obtained court orders to bar 91 opposition and civic leaders from entering the city's downtown area Saturday.

Bersih is demanding the government implement electoral reforms ahead of the next round of national elections, including measures to prevent vote-buying and fraud. The elections are due to be held in 2013.

More than 200 people have been arrested over the past few weeks for helping to support the rally, drawing criticism from human rights advocacy groups.