KL's Merdeka Square ordered to close after 5pm daily

Protesters dressed in yellow gather near Merdeka Square during the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections rally, also known as Bersih, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Nov 19, 2016.
Protesters dressed in yellow gather near Merdeka Square during the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections rally, also known as Bersih, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Nov 19, 2016.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

KUALA LUMPUR • The mayor of Kuala Lumpur has ordered Dataran Merdeka to be closed in the evenings.

The notice came after hundreds of people flocked to the historic square in the city centre to hold candlelight vigils for detained Bersih rally organiser Maria Chin Abdullah.

The vigil attracted 300 people on Monday, with crowds swelling to about 800 on Tuesday. Ms Chin, 60, was detained by police last Friday, on the eve of Saturday's Bersih rally in Kuala Lumpur, which drew more than 15,000 people into the streets to demand that Prime Minister Najib Razak step down amid graft allegations.

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and his wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, attended the vigil on Monday. Opposition leaders Lim Kit Siang and Tony Pua turned up on Tuesday.

The notice of closure, in Malay, was displayed on an electronic screen at the square after Tuesday night's vigil. It said the whole of Dataran Merdeka would be closed from Tuesday for a week, from 5pm until 7am daily.

Despite the closure, people continued to gather by the roadside near the square last night.

Yesterday, news site Malaysiakini reported that Malaysia's Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar warned all rally organisers to comply with the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012. "This cannot go on... From now, we will take sterner actions against them, including the ones burning candles at Dataran Merdeka," he said. "Don't think that since you are just gathering to burn candles, you do not need to give notice."

Meanwhile, the KL City Hall yesterday said it plans to send the organisers of the Bersih 5 and Red Shirt rallies a bill totalling RM27,374 (S$8,800), for cleaning up and repairing the damage after last Saturday's rallies.

It said it would take legal action if the bill was not paid.

Last year, Bersih rally organisers were issued a RM65,000 clean-up bill by City Hall. "We did not pay and they did not come after us," said Bersih treasurer Thomas Fann.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2016, with the headline 'KL square ordered to close after 5pm daily'. Print Edition | Subscribe