Human rights group demands Mahathir resign after riots

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — One day after a police crackdown turned an anti-government protest into a riot, a leading Malaysian human rights group demanded Sunday that the prime minister resign.
Human rights group Suaram said in a statement that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad “must accept full responsibility for having totally mishandled the situation. … We call upon the prime minister to resign.”
Saturday’s protest spun out of control when police arrested dozens of people, shot water laced with pepper spray at thousands of demonstrators, and bombarded a mosque with tear gas.
More than 241 people were arrested and injuries were reported on both sides. Calm had returned to the capital by Sunday.
Demonstrators have staged a series of protests since ousted deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was jailed Sept. 20. Protesters demand political reforms, an end to Mahathir’s 17-year rule and Anwar’s release.
Anwar, once the heir apparent to Mahathir, has pleaded innocent to charges of corruption and sexual misconduct and will stand trial beginning Nov. 2.
Saturday’s demonstration marked a defiant turning point after protesters turned on police, who have declared all demonstrations in support of Anwar illegal.
The opposition leader of parliament, Lim Kit Siang, in a statement issued Sunday, called for an independent investigation into the riot, saying it was sparked by “very cruel police handling of unarmed and peaceable people.”
Mahathir condemned the rioters, saying they had Molotov cocktails and used women and children as shields. “Don’t blame the government if children are burnt during the rioting,” he said.
The government has threatened to arrest demonstrators under the country’s Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial.