Leven Woon & Susan Loone
7:58PM Feb 26, 2012
The Penang leg of solidarity gatherings for the Himpunan Hijau 2.0 rally in Kuantan was the sole event which saw disruptions, with two journalists hurt during a fracas that erupted at the rally.
Himpunan Hijau supporters began gathering at the Penang Esplanade were met by a hostile group, which includes local leaders from Umno Youth and Malay rights pressure group Perkasa, numbering about 50.
Several members of this group have often been spotted at anti-Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng rallies organised by Suara Anak-Anak Malaysia and Komtar Traders Association vice president Abdul Ghani Mohammed Jiman.
When the event kicked off at about 6.00pm, the hostile group began jeering Himpunan Hijau supporters and telling them that this was not a “Penang issue”.
Some shouted “Hidup Umno”, “Hidup BN”, “We want freedom” and “BalikKuantan (Go back to Kuantan)”.
Several Himpunan Hijau supporters who offered to debate with the hostile group were shouted at, pushed and told to stop their protest.
By this time, the Himpunan Hijau crowd that swelled to about 500, retorted by chanting anti-Lynas slogans, and “Hidup rakyat (Long live the people)”.
By about 6.15pm, no police were in sight despite the intense shouting match which ensued.
Freedom to speak, not harass
Penang executive councillor and Tanjung MP Chow Kon Yeow who was first to address the crowd, saying that the freedom of speech of both pro and anti-Lynas supporters must be respected.
However, Chow said if the pro-Lynas supporters wanted to express their views, they could have organised another protest, instead of “harassing and disturbing” their opponents.
“The pro-Lynas supporters say this is not a Penang issue. But this is not a political issue, it is something that concerns all Malaysians,” he said.
“And if this is not a Penang issue, then why are they shouting here?” he added.
Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng arrived at the scene at about 6.30pm and addressed the Himpunan Hijau supporters, affirming Pakatan Rakyat’s stance against the Lynas rare earth refinery in Gebeng, near Kuantan, because of potential radioactive hazards.
He also urged the crowd not to be cowed by the opposing group gathered just near by.
Upon hearing this, the hostile group showered Lim with a barrage of vulgarities and popular Hokkien swear words, prompting Himpunan Hijau crowd to boo them.
They also continued chanting “Guan Eng penipu (liar)” and asked him to return to Malacca, the CM’s place of birth.
The hostile group also shouted at the CM to “please settle Penang problems first, before talking about issues in another country or state”.
However, Lim braved all the obscenities, and told the crowd that those who supported Lynas did it for the money as the company benefitted only Umno cronies.
Following this, Lim attempted to leave the stage and join the crowd but the hostile group started to push participants and a fracas ensued.
According to eyewitnesses, two journalists from local Chinese daily Kwong Wah Jit Poh – Adam Chew (left) and Lee Hong Chun – were struck with motorcycle helmets.[See videos below]
Lee, when met later, said his head was injured, and that he was hit by the pro-Lynas members while snapping shots of the group trying to stop Lim’s car from leaving the field.
The police finally moved in at about 7.15pm, blaring sirens and demanding that the crowd disperse.
Unlike Penang, other solidarity rallies in major towns and cities elsewhere proceeded smoothly.
In BUKIT MERAH, Perak some 1,000 people gathered at the former Asian Rare Earth (ARE) refinery at 11am for a 90-minute rally to show support for the Kuantan counterparts.
Rally organiser Hew Yoon Tat, when contacted, said he gave a speech during the event where he reminded the public that the cleanup works for the now defunct ARE was still ongoing and thus still pose a danger.
“The government should put a blanket ban on rare earth processing factory,” he said.
He said past experience with the ARE have caused doubts with the assurances being given over the soon-to-be operation Lynas plant.
Back in 2003, Bukit Merah residents were told that two years were needed to decommission the ARE.
“He said the reason being is the factory needed to be torn down part by part so that the radioactive waste would not go into the village.
“How come last time when it was in operation you claimed it was not harmful and now you said it is harmful?” he asked.
In KUALA LUMPUR, some 500 people gathered in front of Maju Junction shopping centre (above) along the busy Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman in a three-hour gathering.
Gatherings from Penang to Tawau
It was a festive atmosphere during the gathering which saw participants singing songs and displaying their placards for oncoming vehicles, encouraging them to honk in support.
Other than musical performances, some participants also donated small locks of hair which was later used to spell out the phrase “Stop Lynas, save Malaysia” on the sidewalk.
In KUCHING, Sarawak, some 30 protesters converged at Taman Sahabat, Jalan Song for a solidarity rally, but was forced to cut it short to about 15-minutes because of heavy rain.
Organiser William Lee drew comparisons between the Lynas plant and the country’s the first aluminum smelter in Balingian, Sarawak which has caused plants within 3km ratio to die.
He warned that a similar scene might happened in Gebeng.
There are also reports of solidarity gatherings being held in Tawau, Kota Kinabalu, Sibu, Miri, Kluang and even as far as Melbourne.