Singapore Opposition Figure Arrested

SINGAPORE (AP) A prominent opposition party official and civil rights activist was arrested Wednesday for trying to hold a May Day rally outside the presidential palace in this tightly controlled city-state.

Chee Soon Juan was arrested after he defied a police warning not to hold the rally for workers’ rights. It is illegal in Singapore to hold a public rally without a government license. Chee’s application was rejected.

“Our intention is to have a peaceful rally. It’s the right of every Singaporean to speak freely,” Chee said before he was lead into a police van outside the Istana, or palace, which is opened to the public Wednesday for May Day. “It’s Labor Day and workers need a voice in Singapore.”

About a dozen police officers were waiting for Chee, head of the Singapore Democratic Party. Another man who accompanied Chee was also arrested. Police would not immediately identify the other man.

Labor Day, celebrated Wednesday in many countries, is a public holiday in Singapore.

Chee has been jailed twice before in past years for speaking in public without permits required by law.

Chee is also being sued for slander by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew the country’s two most senior leaders over remarks Chee made during an election campaign last year.

Critics accuse Singapore’s long-ruling People’s Action Party of using defamation suits and curbs on public speech to stifle political opposition. Opposition parties hold just two of the 84 elected seats in Parliament.

Government leaders argue that the party’s tight management has helped make Singapore an oasis of stability and prosperity in often turbulent Southeast Asia.