Unrest Mars Malaysia Summit -- Protests Continue; Clinton Cancels Trip To Summit
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Police fired water cannons to drive back a crowd of anti-government protesters yesterday as they pushed toward a hotel where U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was taken after her arrival in Malaysia.
Seeking U.S. support, the demonstrators marched to within 200 yards of the gleaming Renaissance Hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
Albright had been driven there after arriving to take part in preparations for a Pacific Rim summit on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Defying thousands of police and security officers stationed in the city for the international meeting, 3,000 people rallied downtown to criticize Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
"Clinton, arrest Mahathir. Clinton, save us from Mahathir," the crowd screamed as they started toward the hotel.
It was not clear if Albright was in the hotel at the time.
President Clinton yesterday canceled his trip to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in order to deal with the crisis with Iraq. He sent Vice President Al Gore in his place.
Mahathir took aim at Clinton for the way he has handled the crisis with Iraq.
"I'd always hoped we could settle such problems with negotiations," Mahathir said. "Iraq is not an easy country, but lobbing bombs and grenades will not do anything to solve this problem."
In Kuala Lumpur, several marchers roughed up two policemen on the way to the hotel and set a police motorcycle on fire.
Plumes of smoke billowed in the air as police quickly sealed off the area around the hotel.
The protest broke up shortly before last midnight.
Today, more than 300 people demonstrated in downtown Kuala Lumpur at the close of a gathering of social activists in the Malaysian capital.
The activists closed a six-day conference today with a declaration opposing what they say is rampant global business expansion.
The activists say they hope their message will be heard by the leaders attending the APEC summit.
Yesterday, while officials from 20 Pacific Rim nations met to discuss Asia's financial crisis, police fired shots into the air to disperse thousands of people also demonstrating against the government.
It was the first time security forces had fired shots since anti-government protests began after the dismissal of Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on Sept. 2 and his subsequent arrest.
Anwar is being tried for alleged abuse of power and sexual misconduct. He denies the charges and says he is the victim of a political vendetta orchestrated by Mahathir.
Anwar's wife, Azizah Ismail, met yesterday with two top Canadian officials attending the APEC summit and plans to talk with Albright during her visit to Malaysia.
Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy and International Trade Minister Sergio Marchi expressed concern about allegations that Anwar has beaten by police while in prison.
The meeting came despite a plea by Mahathir that foreign officials attending the summit not meddle in Malaysia's affairs.
The plainclothes policemen's warning shots triggered a stampede among 2,000 protesters.
Witnesses said the crowd turned on the three officers after realizing they were not news photographers, as they first had appeared to be.
The use of undercover police posing as news photographers is bound to raise concerns among the thousands of foreign journalists who have converged on Kuala Lumpur for the summit.
Shortly after the warning shots, the crowd swelled from an estimated 2,000 to more than 3,000. The rally soon turned into chaos, with many fleeing in panic and others hurling stones at police officers. Many women and children were among the demonstrators.
Protesters had burned large portraits of the prime minister, and others blocked a nearby traffic intersection. Hundreds of people held banners demanding the resignation of Mahathir, who is Asia's longest-serving leader. He has ruled 17 years.
"Mahathir is power-crazy," one banner read.
Mahathir, the host of the Pacific Rim summit, has said he expected rallies to break out in support of his ousted deputy, who was once considered his successor.
Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.