Kuala Lumpur - Malaysian police said they killed five suspected criminal gang members in a shootout early on Monday, as they crackdown on a burst of violent crime that has shocked the country.
Police said they launched the nationwide anti-crime push on Saturday, following a growing public outcry over lawlessness that for the past month has seen near-daily shootings and other violence, the vast majority going unsolved.
The Barisan Nasional ruling regime has blamed the chaos on gang members and other criminals released when a tough security law that allowed preventive detention was scrapped in 2011 after pressure from reform advocates.
But police critics blame the national police force, which is widely viewed as corrupt and unprofessional, for failing to keep the peace.
Police said the five gang suspects were killed in an exchange of fire when police moved into their hideout in the northern state of Penang.
‘Brazen’ gun crimes
Known for its beach resorts, multicultural Penang has seen a recent spate of shootings, some in broad daylight, that authorities have blamed on a gangland turf war.
State police chief Abdul Rahim Hanafi confirmed a media report on the Penang shootout.
"Yes it happened at 05:00. [2100 GMT Sunday]. The [Inspector General of Police] will give more details later," he told AFP.
The Star newspaper said the five dead were suspected to have been involved in the recent Penang violence.
Prime Minister Najib Razak called on police late last month to curb the "brazen" gun crimes that have sowed fear among normally laid-back Malaysians.
Malaysians have complained for years about a perceived surge in burglaries, robberies, and purse-snatching.
But concerns have spiked in the past month with a series of killings.
They included the shooting to death of Bahrain-born Hussain Ahmad Najadi, aged 75, who founded one of Malaysia's largest banks in the 1970s, who was gunned down in broad daylight on a street in central Kuala Lumpur on 29 July.
Police have yet to track down the shooter or offer a clear explanation of the crime.
The crackdown launched at the weekend in the capital will include increased roadblocks and patrols to corral "suspicious" people and gradually be expanded nationwide, police have said.
Police will employ a previously little-used law allowing them to detain people 14 days without a court order.
Media reports said 15 people were detained on Saturday. Police were yet to update the numbers.
Najib's administration - which set crime reduction as a key goal - says crime in the Muslim-majority country has fallen sharply the last two years.
The claim is widely met with public derision and accusations by the opposition that data is being tampered with.