KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- Riot
police chased thousands of people out
of Kuala Lumpur's main mosque today when Muslim prayers turned into a rally
for Malaysia's jailed opposition leader.
Braving the threat of arrest under
Malaysia's tough security law, thousands
of people shouted slogans against Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and
unfurled banners that said: ``Mahathir is cruel.''
The rally was the latest in a series
of protests prompted by the Sept. 2
firing of Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and his subsequent arrest on
Sunday. Even the arrests of dozens of Anwar's supporters have failed to
quell the unrest.
The United States criticized Malaysia's
government today for using state
security as a pretext to suppress dissent.
``We are increasingly concerned
by the use of the Internal Security Act to
restrict the rights of assembly, free speech, and open communication in
Malaysia,'' the State Department said.
The rally at the mosque began minutes
after prayers ended. An Anwar
supporter addressed the 10,000-strong crowd through a megaphone from a
balcony as others tossed photocopied pictures of Anwar into the crowd
``We call for all ISA political
detainees to be released,'' he said,
referring to the Internal Security Act. He also called for Mahathir's
The crowd responded with a thundering ``Allahu Akbar'' or ``God is Great.''
Hundreds of helmeted riot police
and plainclothes officers quickly moved
in, banging wooden batons on their shields.
As they stormed through the mosque,
many covered their combat boots with
red booties. Others left on their shoes and were chided by demonstrators,
who shouted, ``Shoes! Shoes!'' reminding the officers of the Muslim custom
of leaving shoes outside the mosque.
There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Anger has been fueled by the government's
refusal to bring Anwar to court.
The former minister has denied allegations against him, including unlawful
sex acts, interfering with police investigations and leaking state secrets.
Mahathir said today that Anwar would
be taken to court once his supporters
stifled their protests.
``Tell his followers not to riot,
then he will be brought to court for a
trial,'' Mahathir said, adding that Anwar would be allowed to meet his
lawyers when the time is right.