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Parliament Members Among 88 Arrested In Malay-Chinese Racial Conflict

October 30, 1987

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ Police have arrested 88 people this week, including 11 members of Parliament, in a crackdown aimed at preventing Malay-Chinese racial clashes, authorities said today.

Three arrests were made in Sarawak, the east Malaysian state on Borneo island, expanding the widening ring of arrests outside peninsular Malaysia, authorities said.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said the arrests, along with Wednesday’s closure of three newspapers and a ban on rallies, were necessary to prevent race riots. Police have set up roadblocks in various parts of Kuala Lumpur, population 1 million, and were conducting searches on some vehicles.

Mahathir told Parliament that unspecified actions by Malay and Chinese politicians in the governing National Front coalition and the opposition Chinese-backed Democratic Action Party, and by individuals, newspapers and magazines, had aggravated racial tension.

Those actions, he said, have made it appear his Malay-led government is oppressive to the Chinese and Indian minorities.

Of the nation’s 16.5 million population, 55 percent are Malay, 37 percent Chinese and most of the remainder is Indian.

Tension between the races worsened in May 1969 when campaigning on language and other issues prior to parliamentary and state elections resulted in riots in which more than 500 people died.

The latest tension followed the government’s decision to assign about 20 non-Mandarin-speaking teachers to Chinese schools where the Mandarin dialect is used. The government also banned teaching in Chinese some subjects at the Chinese language department of the university in Kuala Lumpur.

Henceforth Malay is to be used.

A police statement said the arrests were made under the Internal Security Act, which allows detention without trial. Also among those arrested are environmentalists, academicians, and businessmen.

Members of Parliament who were arrested include the secretary-general and the leader of the Chinese opposition, Lim Kit Siang, who was picked up Tuesday when the arrests began.

Nine are from the Chinese-backed Democratic Action Party and two from the government’s National Front coalition party.

The London-based civil rights group Amnesty International said in a statement to The Associated Press that most of those detained this week under the Internal Security Act were ″prisoners of conscience″ arrested for the nonviolent expression of their opinions.

Calling for their immediate and unconditional release, the group said no specific charges have been laid against them and no evidence had been produced to show any of them had advocated violence.

While the Malays have been in Malaysia for centuries, the Indians were imported by British colonialists early this century to work the rubber and other plantations. The Chinese came early this century as traders.

Update hourly