Crowd gathers at Kuala Lumpur's Merdeka Square for anti-TPP rally

Green-clad protesters at the Jalan Tun Perak-Jalan Raja junction near Merdeka Square on Jan 23, 2016.
Green-clad protesters at the Jalan Tun Perak-Jalan Raja junction near Merdeka Square on Jan 23, 2016.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK/REUTERS) - A crowd has started gathering at several places near Merdeka Square in Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on Saturday (Jan 23) for a rally against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Scores were seen at Maju Junction, one of the meeting points of the rally as early as noon. Protesters at Maju Junction were dressed in black and were seen carrying anti-TPP banners. With them are members of Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM).

At the Jalan Tun Perak-Jalan Raja junction, policemen were seen manning roads as green-clad protesters mingled by the side of the road waiting for others to arrive.

Many of the demonstrators congregated in central Kuala Lumpur were from the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), which fears that the South-east Asian country could lose control of its economy if it enters the 12-nation pact with the United States.

Police have warned the participants to stay away from Merdeka Square.

Dang Wangi district police chief Asst Comm Zainol Samah said that the police would not hesitate to take stern action against those who broke the law and urged participants to follow the advice of police to gather at Padang Merbok.

The rally participants included members of PAS, Bersih 2.0, right-wing group Perkasa, Amanah and PSM.

At 2pm, some of the participants, mostly in green and some holding PAS flags, arrived at Padang Merbok, where the authorities have allowed the use of the field.

Parti Amanah Negara chief Mohamad Sabu was seen addressing the crowd outside the Sogo shopping mall in Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman.

The crowd from Maju Junction walked to Jalan Tun Perak and grouped just outside the barricades at Merdeka Square while another bigger group of PAS members walked from the National Mosque to Padang Merbok.

Perkasa chief Ibrahim Ali told the crowd at Padang Merbok that Parliament should postpone the signing of the TPP.

He also called for a Royal Commission of Inquiry to be set on the TPP.

The TPP is a trade agreement among twelve Pacific Rim countries, including Malaysia and Singapore, concerning a variety of matters of economic policy.

Prime Minister Najib Razak's government has argued that Malaysia, which relies on exports of commodities, minerals and electronics, cannot afford to stay out of a trade zone whose participants account for 40 per cent of the global economy.

The ruling Barisan Nasional coalition's parliamentary majority should ensure the pact gets approval, but Datuk Seri Najib can ill-afford any increase in his unpopularity as he seeks to fend off a financial scandal at a state-owned fund.

Mr Najib has denied any wrongdoing, and leaders of PAS have been less critical than others over the controversy at the fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, and over how nearly US$700 million came to be deposited into the Prime Minister's personal account.

Opponents of the TPP fear the pact would compromise national interests and favour foreign multinational companies.

In a bid to reassure ethnic Malay action groups, International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed has said affirmative action policies for the country's ethnic majority would be safeguarded.

Critics have also argued that small and medium sized enterprises - providing 65 per cent of jobs - will be among the worst hit if the trade deal were to take effect.

"This is not a racial issue," said Mr Salahuddin Ayub, deputy president of Amanah, a party that splintered from PAS. "When we talk about small and medium enterprises, everyone is affected."

Concerns have also been raised about a possible steep hike in medicine prices due to intellectual property clauses that would clamp down on the sale of generic drugs and benefit big pharmaceutical companies.