Calm before the storm
The night was quiet. The usual buzz that surrounds KL on a Friday night was evidently missing. I walked from Masjid Jamek LRT station to the hotel through Masjid India bazaar. Not many police were sighted. Businesses were still operating as usual. The crowd was mainly tourists.
I met up with Padma, Jo and Kavilan in the hotel. My roommate was Albert and Bakri — Haris Ibrahim’s younger brother. As the night was still young, Padma, Jo and I chilled out at the hotel’s rooftop cafe. From above, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman (TAR) looked deserted. Streets were empty. So were Jalan Raja Laut and Jalan Kuching. The police had barricaded and blocked access into KL, advising people to stay at home. A helicopter with a spot light was seen flying low every 15 minutes around town, inspecting every inch of it. KL was on a self-imposed curfew.
In the midst of our conversation, we got news that some hotels were being raided by the police. We decided to go back to our rooms. Albert, Bakri and I were cautious throughout the night. Soon sunrise came.
The “hide and seek” began
From afar, we saw that Dataran Merdeka was sealed off. There were occasional sirens wailing and FRU trucks moving. Police were combing Jalan TAR and its adjacent alleys and there were reports of arrests in SOGO. We spotted 3 Special Branch (SB) officers, having breakfast at table beside us. We decided to go back to our rooms.
While waiting in the room, suddenly, the phone rang! A man was looking for May and said that her friend from Singapore was having trouble downstairs. But there was no May in our group. Albert replied and hung up. Subsequently, two more calls came, this time answered by Bakri and he managed to get his name — Azman. Bakri gave him the same reply and finally, he said “then can I speak to Padma”. Bakri told him to check with the receptionist, and hung up.
I told Bakri that it could be the SB “fishing” and he made a few calls to the rest of the group. We gathered, and decided to move to Pasar Seni.
We walked along Jalan Ampang towards Jalan Hang Lekiu. Streets were empty. The Masjid Jamek LRT station was sealed off, and FRU trucks were in position. We saw pockets of people along the way, in groups of twos and threes. Some were sitting by the curb. About seven to eight FRU trucks were stationed in front of Pasar Seni. We also spotted a lot of SBs in Pasar Seni. We then decided to move to Petaling Street.
Petaling Street — where the party begins
As we reached Petaling Street, we noticed small groups had already gathered. The crowd mostly consisted of youths. I bumped into some friends, fellow LoyarBurokkers among them — Justine, Ka Ea, and June. The SABM-ers sang Negaraku and the crowd cheered. Spirits were getting high. We decided to walk to Stadium Merdeka via Jalan Hang Jebat. As I turned the corner, I saw a sea of people marching forward — about 2,000 at least. I stood still for a moment. No words could describe my feelings. We were not alone!
Within minutes, the crowd grew; more joined the marching crowd (out of nowhere!). By the time the group reached the intersection to Jalan Hang Jebat, there were at least 4,000 people. I lost sight of Padma and Jo in the midst of marching. The atmosphere was carnival-like, so I was not too worried. The group wanted to march up to Jalan Hang Jebat to Stadium Merdeka. But there was a police blockade, just outside Rumah BP.
Rather instinctively (I don’t know what the hell got into me!), I jumped in front and told them “NO! We don’t confront! We came for a peaceful walk and we don’t want a confrontation!” The few leaders/marshals looked at me stunned, and agreed. The group then turned back and head towards Kotaraya.
The Jalan Sultan crowd joined another group that had already gathered at Jalan Tun Perak, front of Maybank Tower. The crowd has already swelled to at least 20,000. More and more were also walking in from Jalan Sultan. I was already helping in crowd control by now, urging those at the back to join the crowd. The crowd size continued to grow tremendously — it was nearing 30,000.
Attention was suddenly thrown towards Jalan Pudu during Dr.Hatta Ramli’s speech. There was a large group marching forward. I ran forward to check if the crowd was another Bersih group. To my relief, I saw Alex (Bukit Bintang MP Fong Kui Lun’s son) leading the pack. This is the group that marched from Pudu. The two groups merged, and by now it was a 50,000-strong crowd.
The FRU spring into action!
Without warning, suddenly an FRU truck came charging towards the crowd in front of Sinar Kota and started shooting water at the unprovoked crowd. The crowd panicked and retreated. Some youngsters who were clearly angered and provoked, and tried to charge at the FRU.
I ran in front again (I still don’t know why the hell I did that!) and shouted like a mad man, asking them not to confront. Some Pak Cik and Uncles also tried to hold the line as well.
Then — “Poom” “Poom Poom” “Poom Poom Poom” — tear gas were fired at the crowd. The massive crowd retreated back to the intersection in front of Puduraya. By now, we were almost split into two smaller groups; one retreating backwards to Jalan Pudu, some to Puduraya while the other group moved backwards to Jalan Sultan.
“Garam Garam Garam”… “Air Air Air”… People were sharing salt, pouring water into each others towels. A few youngsters were seen helping a Pak Cik who seems to be having breathing difficulties as he sat by the curbside.
I spoke to a leader and we decided to group everyone together at Puduraya. The Jalan Sultan crowd started moving, slowly. Suddenly, the FRU came charging again from Jalan Tun Perak! This time with blue chemicals! The crowd retreated further back; clearly breaking the group into two.
At the same time, the FRU from Pasar Seni moved up to Petaling Street junction. I urged the crowd to move back into Jalan Sultan. A group of youngsters then emerged from Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin and ran towards Jalan Sultan. “Poom Poom” “Poom Poom Poom”… the FRU near Kotaraya fired. A few brave youngsters kicked away the gas canisters to change the direction of the teargas.
God answered our prayers
And as if God was watching us, rain came. It poured! The rain washed away the tear gas. I saw a teenage Malay boy — his eyes were inflamed and red but he soldiered on. I asked if he was alright, he pointed skywards and washed his eyes. We smiled. Surprisingly, the earlier police blockade in front of Rumah BP was gone (maybe they were scared of the rain). The crowd marched towards Stadium Merdeka. I managed to meet up with my brothers there.
The crowd only managed to walk to Changkat Stadium, where the FRU had already put up barbed wire barricades. Here, the FRU and police observed restraint. They left the crowd alone and were only observing. As the rain continued to pour, the crowd chanted and sang Negaraku. Down the road, a carnival like atmosphere filled the crowd again. People were seen busy buying ice-creams from a bicycle vendor.
I met up with Yvonne, Karen and Jonson and we moved along with the crowd towards the Chinese temple opposite Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall. We met a few others there — Kwang Chen, Nathaniel Tan, Edmund Bon, and Zain HD. I called Padma and was glad to find that both she and Jo were alright — they managed to get to Stadium Merdeka! The crowd dispersed peacefully at 4pm.
Walked for a noble cause
People say you will know who your true friends are during your time of need. On July 9th, we, fellow righteous Malaysians who braved all the obstacles, walked together for a cause that we believe in.
There were no Malays, no Chinese, no Indians, no Sabahans, no Sarawakians and no Orang Asli. Just Malaysians!
On July 9th, the real Malaysia emerged, and we walked in peace until…
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