THE JOURNAL consists of selected, most notable and newsworthy POSTINGS OF THE DAY.

Friday, December 19, 2008

> A nation in anger

A group of activists escorted by opposition MPs defied a police ban to cycle to Parliament today and present a list of demands including the repeal of the Internal Security Act.

The activists, who have spent 16 days pedalling across the country, were blocked by police who deployed scores of officers, threw up barricades at the entrance of Parliament and warned organisers their action was illegal.

But a band of 10 cyclists crossed the police line after opposition lawmakers intervened and said it was their democratic right to demand social and political reforms.

The cyclists arrived at the entrance of the building at about 11.45am following what appeared to be a cat-and-mouse game with the police. 

Scores of supporters wearing red T-shirts and carrying banners reading 'Cyclists for Change' shouted "Long live the people" as the activists rode into the grounds of Parliament.

Escorting the riders on foot were opposition MPs Lim Kit Siang (DAP-Ipoh Timor), Gobind Singh Deo (DAP-Puchong), Charles Santiago (DAP-Klang), Mahfuz Omar (PAS-Pokok Sena) and Fong Kui Lun (DAP-Bukit Bintang), among others.

Police had earlier tailed the lorry transporting the bicycles from Lake Gardens nearby to the junction of the road leading to Parliament.

There they allowed four cyclists to ride up one at a time to the building. The rest were asked to abandon their bicycles and walk to Parliament House instead.

By 12.20pm, about 120 activists have arrived outside the building and a delegation of four cyclists were allowed into Parliament House.

After submitting their memorandum, the delegation had lunch in Parliament with a number of MPs before departing.

The rest, including cyclists outside Parliament, were taken by bus to the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall for lunch and to wait for the return of the delegation from Parliament.

This was followed by a certificate-giving ceremony for the cyclists in the afternoon. 

Assembly point 

Earlier, the campaigners had gathered in the Lake Gardens at about 10am.

The cyclists had an appointment to meet Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim (PKR-Permatang Pauh) to hand over a memorandum of concerns food shortages, environmental problems, draconian laws and the impending economic crisis. 

Leaving the Lake Gardens in batches of five, the teenagers among the campaigners were instructed by organisers to walk as the police banned them from riding their bikes.

At the entrance to the Parliament building, the earlier batches - led by Jerit coordinator and PSM secretary-general S Arutchelvan - lined up and waited for the rest to arrive.

On hand to lend support were Pakatan Rakyat MPs including Tian Chua (PKR-Batu), R Sivarasa (PKR-Subang), S Manikavasagam (PKR-Kapar), M Manogaran (DAP-Teluk Intan), Abdullah Sani (PKR-Kuala Langat) and Dr D Jeyakumar (PSM-Sungai Siput).

Applauding as the campaingers arrived, the MPs went around shaking hands, to cheers from the group.

Earlier in the morning, three busloads of cyclists and supporters had first congregated at about 9.30am at the National Museum. 

Deterred by the presence of some 20 police personnel at Jalan Travers, they circled the area, apparently looking for a place to disembark.

The bus eventually stopped in Lake Gardens, just across the road from Parliament House. 

They arrived there at 10am while the organisers held discussions on how to reach Parliament. Their bicycles were on board an accompanying lorry.

About 10.30am, two more buses arrived with more cyclists and supporters on board.

Among them were senior citizens and children below the age of 12, many wearing the trademark red campaign T-shirts.

Monitored by police 

The multi-racial group, numbering about 250, was monitored by about 100 plainclothes and uniformed police personnel, including those from the traffic unit.

At Parliament House, two Light Strike Force trucks were on standby, with about 50 plainclothes and uniformed personnel. A mobile unit was also stationed there, while a police helicopter hovered over the vicinity.

After initial attempts to ride their bicycles to Parliament were stopped by the police, the group walked the final half a kilometre to Parliament.

Jerit's triumphal ride to Parliament was marred by the arrest of one of its supporters for allegedly obstructing police from doing their duty.

The cyclists had begun their 16-day journey in two team - one from Alor Star in the north and the other from Johor in the south.

They endured much harassment over the journey, having been stopped at nine locations and seeing some in the group being detained by police.

In Seberang Perai, some bicycles were set alight by suspected arsonists. During the two-week-long journey, a total of 120 participants were detained but later freed.

"The aim of this campaign is important. People are suffering. The government must address the problems which are real," said A Kalishwaran, a 16-year-old participant who said he was held overnight by police. 

Yesterday, however, was free of incident, as they rode to Shah Alam to deliver their memorandum to Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim.

Updated 5.50pm: At the victory lunch hosted by Jeyakumar, Jerit coordinator Y Kohila described the campaign as an “inspiration” despite the many obstacles they had faced.

“I am so touched and speechless as I salute the cyclists for finishing this campaign in Parliament today,” she said.

However, Jeyakumar described the police turnout as “excessive”.

“This is ridiculous as Parliament has agreed to accept us and I applaud them for doing so.

"As for the police however, it would be better for them to use their resources to counter crime in the country and not us, cyclists.

“But if the police are scared of the cyclists, then they need to get professional help,” he said to cheers from the crowd. Kit Siang and Mahfuz also addressed the gathering.

Deputy Minister in the PM's Department T Murugiah represented the government in receiving a memorandum from Jerit.

Oppostion Leader Anwar Ibrahim was not present as he was speaking in the House when the event took place outside.

The memorandum was however submitted to Pakatan leaders Kit Siang, Jeyakumar, Mahfuz and Saifuddin Nasution of PKR

Murugiah declined an offer to address the crowd. He left after receiving the memorandum.

“As long as he received our memorandum on the government’s behalf, it is okay for us,” said Kohila - Malaysiakini.