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Police Arrest 23 in Malaysia

March 12, 2001

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ Authorities arrested 23 people carrying weapons Monday in a suburb where fighting between Malays and Indians have killed at least six in Malaysia’s worst ethnic bloodshed in three decades.

Hundreds of riot police armed with batons stood guard beside trucks mounted with water cannon, watching children return to school in five villages after the clashes.

Some villagers on the outskirts of this Southeast Asian nation’s largest city refused to leave their houses, fearing that the violence could flare again.

Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi toured the area for the first time, meeting about 2,000 residents and warning that authorities will crack down on people who spread false news of fresh fighting.

Officers detained 12 ethnic Indians and 11 Malays who gathered in the area early Monday, apparently to fight each other, said Selangor state Police Chief Nik Ismail Nik Yusoff. Police seized 34 weapons, including homemade bombs, steel pipes and machete-like knives called parangs.

Another six people, including two Indonesians, were arrested in the area for suspicious behavior late Monday, federal police spokesman Benjamin Hasbie said. It was not immediately determined if they carried weapons.

This brought the number of arrests since Thursday to 190.

Residents said the violence stemmed from a dispute between an Indian funeral procession and Malays celebrating a wedding. They said a drunken Indian man kicked over a chair at the Malay party, leading to a fight that quickly escalated amid racial friction in the area.

Nik Ismail told reporters that police planned to charge some of those arrested with offenses including murder _ which carries a mandatory death sentence _ rioting, causing a state of emergency, and carrying explosives.

``Police will not hesitate to take action to maintain peace,″ he said. ``We will increase the number of officers patrolling the area when necessary.″

Nik Ismail said that one Indian man died in hospital early Monday from stab wounds suffered on Saturday, taking the official death toll since Thursday to six. Five of the dead are ethnic Indians, while another was an Indonesian man who was reportedly mistaken for a Malay.

However, residents and hospital officials who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that the death count was at least 12 people.

Authorities on Monday said 52 people had been injured.

Some residents said the clashes underscore grievances over poverty and social problems in their villages. Ethnic relations are sensitive in Malaysia, where riots in 1969 between the dominant Malay Muslims and ethnic Chinese, the largest minority, left hundreds dead.

Ethnic Indians comprise 8 percent of Malaysia’s 22 million people. Most of them are much poorer than the Malays, who enjoy special privileges under programs instituted after the 1969 riots, and the ethnic Chinese, who dominated Malaysia’s economy for decades.

Residents have complained for years of poor police protection in the area, which is known for crime gangs. Officials promised Saturday to build new police stations.

Update hourly