Monday, July 11, 2011

Bersih 2.0 - An Eyewitness' Account (Part 1)


"From which news media are you?" the policeman shouted at my bro Fadhil.

"I am a blogger," he replied, matter-of-factly.

"So you must be the ones, spreading lies about the police," the policeman screamed. "Get out of the way and give me that camera," he shouted as he surged forward to snatch the Canon DSLR my brother was carrying.

But my bro would not let go his camera that easily. He practically fought back, ensuring that he would  hold onto his dear camera.

If the police thought my brother was an easy meat, he was sadly mistaken!

A Long Walk in the Sun
And empty hiway - no one is going,
I thought

Not unlike Bersih (1.0), this time around it was raining cats and dogs.

Unlike Bersih (1.0), it starts raining in the middle of the rally, and not at the onset of the rally.

Empty stations at 10 am

We arrived very early - around 10.30 am (Bersih 1.0 was more like 1 pm). As the train bypassed Hang Tuah station, I sensed something was not right and told my bro that we were disembarking at Puduraya (rather than our planned destination of Masjid Jame). I was pretty sure they would have closed down Masjid Jamek by then.

But there was nothing much to see at Puduraya, except that there are policemen/women everywhere, and that most roads had been cordoned off. There were perhaps more policemen than there were spectators at this stage.
This is Pudu near Petaling Street. This is at 1028 hours
There was no traffic at all. Occasionally you would see motorbike or police car. Forget about the traffic jam everybody was touting. It is heaven if you want to head to downtown.
We can sit and pose on the street. This is Leboh Pasar Besar and this is
the first battle ground an hour after this pic was taken.
So we moved from Pudu to Pasar Seni to Dataran Merdeka and to Masjid Negara, and take picture of an eerily calmed Kuala Lumpur. Many decided to take pictures sitting down in the middle of the streets of Kuala Lumpur; many tourists were walking freely and without any fear for their lives.
Dataran Merdeka -Pix by Hariri Photographers (MFH)
We were worried actually that we would not  be allowed into the city. We definitely know we should not be driving. We knew all roads leading to downtown have been sealed off. I could be the pillion rider on my bro's bike as an alternative. But then we decided to take our chances and take the LRT at Bandar Tun Razak.

To be honest, if the government were to shutdown the LRT, I was prepared to walk from Bandar Tun Razak to downtown KL! It will be a good 8 km walk, but only if we have no choice.
Nothing much here except police trucks.
But with downtown KL more like 'padang jarak padang tekukur' than a bustling cosmopolitan, we were beginning to wonder if it is going to take place at all. It didn't look that way at all. From Puduraya, to Pasar Seni to Dataran Merdeka and onto Masjid Negara to Station KTM, the crowd was sporadic at best. You see people loitering around, especially with the skull caps, but too few to be called a rally.
Did anyone mention about traffic jam? No rally
and yet no traffic jam.

The police blockade, the incessant warning and threat of ISA and Emergency Ordinance must have been effective in preventing people from attending. Actually I was not too sure about it myself. If not for my bro, may be I would have stayed at home.  I would not have much to take this time around - unlike Bersih 1.0 and Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA.

Our presence and preparation would be a waste.

But despite being told by the police at Masjid Negara to turn around and go to Central Market, we decided to cross the street and still head to Station Keretapi KTM.

Here they had taken truckloads of the train passengers. I would not term them as protesters yet as the protest has yet to take place. It was also here that the pakciks and makciks and adiks and kakaks loitering in the KTM compound chatting amongst themselves were apprehended by the police.
For nothing many groups of men and women, many in skullcaps
and long tudung were taken away in the truck. I did not see or
hear any protest or rally and yet...
For what? I have no idea. Honestly it surely looks like a police state to me. The passengers were taken in just because they were there and/or the police thought they have the right to take in anyone, just to prevent a rally from happening.
KTM Station under siege by the police
There was no chanting and no procession and they were all apprehended.

What a premature end, we thought. But that's part and parcel of life, and there is nothing much one can do about it.

There was not much actions here, so we walked back to Dayabumi.

On the bridge above the railway track, we heard chanting. "Ah, well, just now when we were there (at the train station, there was nothing," I lamented, "should we head back to KTM?"

And it got louder and louder.

We looked at each other; excitement filled up the air, and then I exclaimed, "This can't be coming from the station. It must be the central market! "
If you were to zoom in, you would see the procession that has just started from
Tun Sambathan next to Main post office. We were so excited to hear them,
and to see them. That is the pedestrian bridge from Dayabumi carpark
to the KTM Station and Dayabumi.

To me, it reminds me of the scene from Ali Baba Bujang Lapok, you hear the drum beating and people singing - you are not sure where it was coming from, and it was getting louder and louder. I was practically like Ali Baba - short of climbing tree to get better view.

It was an amazing feeling. Exactly what we have been looking for.

But then, I was practically cursing myself. I thought we could be everywhere, and yet we are no where near where the action was. While we were only 5 mins from CM - close enough in some respect, but not close enough in another sense. I really didn't want to miss a thing. And Dayabumi entrance had been cordoned off. So we decided to cross over to the Post Office. Practically running.

At last!

Out of nowhere, came a big crowd from behind the main post office onto the Dayabumi compound. They were chanting "Reformasi, reformasi" and "Hidup Hidup, Hidup Rakyat", and one could also hear the Takbir. We looked at each other and wonder how the group got to this big without attracting the attention of the police.
The crowd in the compound of Dayabumi. Did they riot and destroy anything at Dayabumi?
Pix by Hariri Photographers (MFH)
We went everywhere on foot and there was no crowd at all. KL looks like a dead city and now this!

For a good five minutes we took pictures of the crowd, people of all level of societies. We saw Malays, Chinese and Indian - a good mix definitely. The crowd keep on pouring for what seems like eternity.

I was conscious at that time on the enemy. Now where was the FRU? Were they going to be charging right from behind me? If they did, this crowd was going to be in trouble as the compound is narrow. I hope not, and they were nowhere in sight.

After the front leaders paused at the Dayabumi compound to ensure the crowd would be able to catch up with them (with Central Market on the opposite side of the Kelang River), the procession decided to continue walking. They were basically on a parallel road leading to Dataran Merdeka.

My bro told me he was joining the crowd; I declined and decided to cross the river and be on the other side of the crowd. I knew the FRU is waiting at the other end - we had been there earlier in the morning, I knew there would be stand off with the protesters, and one certainly need not be rocket scientist to know the outcome of such face off!

This lane between Dayabumi and the river is too narrow for my liking. It could lead to disaster once the crowd started running for their dear lives.

We could have stampede in our hands if we were not careful.
Waiting for the crowd from Dayabumi are these riot police with their
tear gas guns. Pix by Hariri Photographers (MGH) - Zali

As a veteran of four rallies in the last 10 years, I know that there is no two way about it.
On this end, are the rakyats facing off at Lebuh Pasar  junction near Dataran Merdeka. 
It is inevitable, but the crowd was prepared
for this eventuality.
Pix by Hariri Photographers (MFH)
The face off at Leboh Pasar Besar right on the bridge was on. At one end was the rakyats, and this end the police.
Getting ready to fire. Pix by the Hariri Photographers - MGH (Zali)
And these people with the Malaysian flag are their targets.
Do you think these people have mob mentality and are bent on creating trouble
and destroying properties?
pix by Hariri Photographer (MGH) Zali
The battle right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur aptly within the vicinity of the court house and Masjid Jamek. I tried standing on the bridge's side, but I can't get good enough a height to take good picture. While I was contemplating on how to shoot my video, I heard a loud bang.

The police has fired into the crowd!
Look at the crowd composition. A big portion of them
are ladies with tudung labuh. Do they look like enemies of the nation?
Pix by Hariri Photographer (MFH)
I can see the pellets/canisters flying through the air. (Time was at 1238 hours)

My main worries then was the impact of such an object flying at certain speed if it were to hit me. It is more dangerous than the tear gas itself.

People started running for their dear lives.
Serve you right for being in an illegal rally.
Pix by Hariri Photographer (MFH)

So a part of the crowd and I ran towards Central Market to escape the gas cloud, while letting my camera running. My part of the area are quite spacious, so we have no problem escaping. I was shooting video mode this time around. I stopped at various points to properly shoot the camera.

I thought I was not in danger. I can see the tear gas cloud, and it was reasonably far from me. So many times I stop to take pictures.

I could see some people jumping onto the pavement of the river to escape. It was getting a bit too dangerous for my liking, hence I did not try to squeeze myself with the crowd at the narrow lane of Dayabumi.

But even as a chemical engineer with some knowledge on diffusion and convection, I underestimated the speed of dispersion of the cloud.

In no time, I was overwhelmed by the gas myself.

But fortunately I came fully prepared - a big bottle of mineral water and salt. In fact this time around, I distributed around my packet of salt to those affacted, and an Indian guy came over to satisfy his thirst with my mineral water.

It feels good to be able to do this very small thing.
The canister - Pix taken by Hariri Photographers (MFH)

The crowds regrouped on the other side of Dayabumi near Main post office and Jalan Tun Sambathan - where they had originally came from. It was here another bro called me and told me he was on the Dayabumi side of the river (while I was on the CM side. So now we have the four brothers with four lenses covering the protest.

With our pictures combined, I was able to write this entry with relevant pictures as we saw them. This is not hearsay, this entry is not about speculation.

More chanting, this time smaller as the group and this time the police is ready.
Pix by MFH
They had been ready at Jalan Tun Cheng Lok right in front of Central Market.

By this time, I was just an observer. I was behind the firing line at Central Market. I decided that I had enough of running and walking. More canisters were fired, one into the JKalang River and another was thrown by someone into the river!

So two canisters were wasted.

I guess by this time the crowd had been well dispersed. The second face off was practically muted. I think most of the crowd was just spectators at this point.

It was near 1 pm and the actions were limited. This was not fun at all.

We basically loitered around near the Pasar Seni station, and were getting restless.

We need to see the rally.

o to be continued
o All pix by ARH unless otherwise stated - MFH (Mohd Fadhil Hariri), and MGH - Zali
o All pix are original pictures shot by the Hariri Photographers and not downloaded from internet

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