KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian police on Saturday fired teargas and water cannon as crowds of protesters demanding electoral reforms surged into a central square in Kuala Lumpur.
The protesters trampled through barbed wire barricades as they poured into the heavily guarded Independence Square, defying a ban on holding the rally at the venue in the heart of the congested capital.
The rally follows one that was crushed by police last July, when 1,600 people were arrested, and marks a major test for Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has sought to portray himself as a reformer ahead of widely expected polls.
The protesters scampered and sought shelter at nearby buildings as police fired repeated rounds of teargas and water cannon.
Police descended on the venue to beat back the protesters and were in control of the square, while dozens of people were rounded up and held inside a police truck.
"We want peace, we want justice for our country. We don't want to make any trouble," said housewife Carmen Yap, 42, who attended the protest with her husband and 10-year-old son.
The protesters confronted a lockdown in various parts of the city.
Large crowds of people, many in the yellow colours of the reform movement, gathered at various points around Kuala Lumpur, defying a ban on holding the rally at Independence Square.
But a heavy police presence hindered access to the city centre, including about 2,000 armed police deployed around the sealed-off square as a police helicopter buzzed low overhead.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said earlier that the demonstrators were intent on marching to the square.
National police spokesman Ramli Yoosuf said about 20,000 protestors had gathered at various locations around the square. (AFP)