Scuffle at anti-GST rally in KL
A SCUFFLE broke out as about 20,000 people gathered in Malaysia's capital yesterday
to protest against a planned goods and services tax (GST).
The primary target of the red-clad, vuvuzela-blowing protesters was the GST taking effect in April next year.
Members of a youth group, the Solidariti Anak Muda Malaysia (Samm), started throwing bottles and flares as a march was taking place along Jalan Raja, the Malaysian Insider reported.
They were attempting to force their way into Merdeka Square.
Samm coordinator Badrul Hisham Shaharin, popularly known as Chegubard, apologised on behalf of those involved in the scuffle.
"If there really were Samm people causing harm, I apologise," he said, but added that those wearing Samm T-shirts were not necessarily from the group.
Protesters also used the occasion to criticise the government, which is under global scrutiny over the still-unexplained loss of Malaysia Airlines MH370.
"Besides the rise in living costs, we are here to voice our frustration over the search for MH370," said Amani Nasir, 26, a medical student who joined the protest.
"There is a lack of transparency... We want to know the cost involved in the search so far, since it is taxpayers' money."
Economists have lauded the expected 6 per cent tax as a step towards reducing one of Asia's highest debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratios, but the opposition warned it would burden ordinary consumers.
Rally speakers also criticised Malaysia's long-governing coalition.
"We are gathered to fight against the systematic oppression of the people. National resources are being used to enrich cronies," Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told the crowd.
Rally participants denounced a court ruling in March that convicted Anwar of sodomy - illegal in Malaysia - and sentenced him to five years in jail.
Anwar called the ruling an attempt by the government to end his political career. He is free pending an appeal.
The crowd began dispersing late in the afternoon as the rally ended.
The demonstration was smaller and more peaceful than previous large-scale rallies staged in the capital in recent years to vent rising impatience with the government, dominated by the ruling United Malays National Organisation.
Deputy Finance Minister Ahmad Maslan described the protest rally against the GST as inappropriate, and said that the rally organisers should use a better approach to voice their opinions.
He said the GST would be implemented from April despite the protest, replacing the existing sales and services tax.
It would not be imposed on basic food items such as rice, sugar, salt, flour and cooking oil.
AFP, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK