28/04/2012 15:07 BST | Updated 28/04/2012 15:25 BST

Malaysia Protests: Tear Gas And Water Cannons Fired At Bersih Pro-Democracy Demonstrators

Malaysian demonstrators protesting against government corruption in Kuala Lumpur have had tear gas and water cannons fired at them by police, after officials took action against thousands of people participating in a peaceful protest.

Around 222 protesters rallying for a free and fair election process have been arrested, reports The Independent.

Opposition leaders and human rights groups have described the action against the demonstrators as unjustified, and it is as yet unclear whether those arrested will be charged with anything.

It was one of the largest ever political protests Malaysia has ever seen, with a police spokesman saying around 25,000 people attended the rally.

However protesters at the demonstration, along with Malaysian news channels, put the number at over double that, at around 100,000.

Demonstrator Charles Chan pointed to the mass turn out as evidence of government corruption.

"Look at how many of us there are today – this just proves how sick we are of the corruption of this government," he told The Guardian.

Demonstrators were calling for reform of electoral policies, ahead of election polls, which could be held as early as June. It was hoped that the number of demonstrators taking to the streets would increase the pressure on Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling coalition, which has been in power for 55 years.

The protest was organised by reform group Bersih, which means clean.

"The message we are sending to Najib is that we must have clean elections!" was the cry shouted by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, before the violence began, reports news agency AFP.

Police had sealed off the capital's Independence square, Dataran Merdeka, with barricades and barbed wire. Violence reportedly broke out after protesters tried to access the square, of immense significance to the demonstrators in light of their pro-democracy cause.

The Malaysian government had said the protesters had no right to use the square. Previously, officials have banned any kind of protest taking place. Over 1600 protestors were arrested in June last year after the government declared Bersih organised protest "walk for democracy" illegal.

The rush to access Independence Square on Saturday was seemingly the tipping point between the police and the protesters, however tension was already rising on the streets of Kuala Lumpur earlier in the day.

A youtube video, purporting to show a police car running over two protesters was trending earlier in the day.

However a number of clips show protesters hitting the police vehicle with cones and branches, suggesting that the car may have ploughed into bystanders after it lost control.

A video showing protesters retaliating and turning the car over has now had thousands of views on the video sharing site.

Courtesy of

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch's deputy Asia director, told the Guardian:

"By launching a crackdown on peaceful … protesters on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian government is once again showing its contempt for its people's basic rights and freedoms."