Malaysian authorities sealed off a downtown square in Kuala Lumpur to prevent a planned sit-in by tens of thousands of electoral reform activists ahead of expected polls.
City authorities who administer the country's independence square, also known as Dataran Merdeka, where the Saturday sit-in is due to take place, have banned the gathering there and offered four stadiums as alternative venues.
"Dataran Merdeka and all roads leading to it will be closed from 6am Friday to 6am on Sunday," city mayor Ahmad Fuad Ismail said in statement late Thursday.
Last July, police used tear gas and water cannon to break up an electoral reform rally by the Bersih 2.0 group, arresting 1,600 people.
Following condemnation of the crackdown, premier Najib Razak set up a bi-partisan parliamentary panel which suggested several changes to the poll system but Bersih says they fall short of its demands.
Although polls are only due next year, premier Najib Razak is expected to seek a fresh mandate soon.
The ruling coalition has governed Malaysia for more than five decades but a resurgent opposition made unprecedented inroads in the last election in 2008.
Bersih has rejected the offer to hold the protest in alternative venues, saying it is too late to change location.
But Home minister Hishammuddin Hussein has thrown his support behind city hall, telling the Star daily: "If they do continue to go to the street and Dataran Merdeka, that is an issue for the police to look into."
Bersih organisers say the sit-in will go ahead and they expect the crowd this year to be more than double last July, when tens of thousands took part.
"We believe the sit-in will be safe because if a lot of people turn up and the numbers are huge enough, the police will be forced to behave themselves," organising committee member Wong Chin Huat told AFP.© ANP/AFP