A Day At The Cinema
September 26th, 1998
This evening, my significant other and I decided to catch a movie at Central Market, and, boy, did we get an action-packed drama!
At 5.00 pm, we left Central Market and proceeded down to Jalan Masjid India, to get a belated gift for a friend (yes, you Suzi!) just before catching the movie. On the way there, we noticed that all the roads leading to Dataran Merdeka were blocked by FRU and police barriers, but we thought nothing of it - probably the police just making sure there was no trouble there.
But by the time we reached the junction of Jalan TAR and Jalan Raja, there was already a crowd of a few thousand there. More FRU barricades and troopers, even a line of horse mounted troopers. A helicopter was buzzing overhead, and, after about half an hour, more roads and side roads around the Dataran Medeka were closed. There were FRU and police barriers stationed all the way up to Jalan Lebuh Ampang. Cars passing by the crowd were honking their support, and there were the occassional cries of "Hidup Anwar!" and "Lingkup Mahathir!", but the crowd was generally quiet and peaceful. Perhaps quite tellingly, I did not hear a single cry of "Reformasi!" throughout the incident.
Around 6.00 o clock, the crowd were asked to disperse, and the people on the Mesjid Jamek side (where I was) started to walk away from the Jalan TAR junction. I don't know what was happening at the Menara DBKL side of the crowd - they probably did not disperse as quickly as the police liked, because I could just about make out an FRU water cannon spraying in that area (unless they were watering the DBKL gardens!)
However, as we were making our way on the Benteng towards Central Market away from Jalan TAR (yes, the crowd was dispersing), a couple dozen FRU suddenly charged along the Benteng with shields flying and batons waving. People who were peacefully enjoying the breeze at the Benteng scattered in the wake of the charge - mothers were picking up toddlers as the red helmets started coming closer, there were shrieks of frightened children, courting couples were running away in each other's arms, like some weird three-legged race. I covered my better half's head with my hands in case some enthusiastic trooper decided to crack it with his baton.
She ran a few times (she prefers that I say "attempted to run") but I grabbed hold of her and told her to walk calmly and look confused, as though you were an innocent bystander wondering what the blazes was going on. We had done nothing wrong and we should not fear anything, I kept repeating to her. The troopers ran straight past us as we reached the Hongkong Bank building at Lebuh Pasar. I could smell the sweat of the FRU troopers as they sprinted past - one of them even accidentally bumped his shield on my butt as he ran past me - and I was half expecting to feel a baton crash into the back of my head at any moment.
The bus stop in front of the Hongkong Bank which was full of commuters just minutes before was by now deserted, and two FRU trucks had by now made their way there. The Red Helmets had by now fanned out into the side roads leading to Bangkok Bank and we could see a youth being dragged by his hair by three or four FRU men towards the trucks. Another FRU team was busy rummaging through the bag of another poor student-looking type.
By the time we reached Central Market (still pretending as though we were on a casual evening stroll), we'd decided to forget about the movie - we'd had enough excitement for the day. The helicopter was still buzzing above our heads as we took the LRT home.
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