KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Police fired tear gas Saturday to disperse hundreds of activists demanding electoral reforms in Malaysia's biggest anti-government street protests in nearly a decade.
The demonstrators were stopped by a police cordon near a mosque in central Kuala Lumpur as they tried to march to a square. Police estimated the crowds at between 10,000 and 30,000.
Shouting "God is great," protests fled when police fired tear gas and a water canon, many of them running into the mosque. When they re-emerged, police fired the water cannon again.
Protest organizers said 10 people were arrested, though there was no immediate confirmation from police. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The protest was organized by some 70 non-governmental organizations and opposition political parties demanding reforms ahead of general elections widely expected for early next year.
They demanded the removal of phantom voters from electoral rolls, a crackdown on government workers using absentee ballots, access to state-controlled media by all political parties, and an end to vote-buying and other irregularities.
"This is our right," said Rosli, a 40-year-old government worker who refused to give his full name, fearing retribution. "We just want to correct what is wrong. We just ask for fair elections."
The government had declared the demonstration illegal and blocked all roads leading to Merdeka Square.
The protest was the biggest since supporters of former deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim took to the streets for several days in September 1998 to protest his dismissal by then-leader Mahathir Mohamad.
Anwar subsequently formed the People's Justice Party, one of three opposition parties supporting Saturday's demonstration.
"It is a good signal that Malaysians want freedom and democracy, and they want free and fair elections," Anwar told reporters.
Mahathir retired in 2003 after 22 years in office, handing over the reins to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
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