KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Authorities announced Wednesday that they have closed three Malaysian newspapers, banned public rallies and arrested 63 people, including an opposition leader, in an effort to prevent possible violence between ethnic Chinese and ethnic Malays of the kind that killed hundreds in 1969.
Racial tensions have risen recently because of a controversy over Chinese-language education and a killing. Of Malaysia's 16 million people, 55% are Malays, 37% are Chinese, and the rest are Indian and other groups. Non-Malays say they are discriminated against in jobs and education.
Gen. Haniff Omar, the police inspector general, told a news conference Wednesday that among the 63 arrested were six opposition members of Parliament, including Lim Kit Siang, leader of the main opposition Democratic Action Party.
They were ordered held without trial under the Internal Security Act, introduced by British colonial authorities to contain a Communist insurgency in 1948.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, in a special address to Parliament, said the police action was needed to keep the peace. He also said he was banning all rallies.
Officials of the English-language newspaper The Star, the Chinese-language Sin Chew Yit Poh and the Malay-language weekly Watan said the Home Affairs Ministry had sent them letters Wednesday ordering them to cease publication as of today.
Under Malaysian law, newspapers and other publications are licensed and the government can revoke the license without giving detailed reasons.
Sees 'Dangerous Situation'
Hanif said the police believe "a dangerous situation is developing, which if not contained could lead to (racial) disturbances."
In May, 1969, more than 500 people were killed in Kuala Lumpur in the nation's worst Malay-Chinese clashes.
The current education controversy began when the government decided for the first time to send 20 non-Mandarin-speaking teachers to some Chinese schools. The decision, announced two months ago, touched off a large protest rally.
Tension flared again on Oct. 18, when an army ranger, a Malay, went berserk in Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown, killing a Malay and injuring two other persons and sparking rumors of Malay-Chinese clashes.