THE Klang River is a smelly, heavily polluted waterway winding through the centre of Kuala Lumpur on a westward course to the sea. The river lacks any attractive features and has a nasty habit of spilling over into city streets, which flood-control measures have yet to curb. But a proposal to cover part of the river with a structure 10 storeys high and 12 kilometres long, which would be mounted on frames rising from the river banks, has prompted strong protests from irate members of the public and various environmental groups. 'Leave the Klang River alone,' a reader said in a letter to the New Straits Times this week. The river may be an eyesore to some people, but it is a living link to the past for others. Kuala Lumpur owes its existence to the Klang, which a party of Malays and Chinese set out to navigate in the mid-1850s in search of tin. From the tin mines and town established at the Klang's confluence with the Gombok River grew Kuala Lumpur, the modern capital of Malaysia. A wealthy Chinese community leader, Yap Ah Loy, who was also head of a secret society, is credited with laying the foundations of the city which now stands on the site of the old tin mines. The original village was destroyed during a civil war between rival Malay leaders. Today, another rich Chinese, Vincent Tan Chee Yioun, chief of the Berjaya group, is set on building another 'city'. His Kuala Lumpur Linear City, which will cover about 117.6 hectares, will comprise office towers, condominiums, shopping malls and Giga World. The structure, straddling the Klang River, will feature such family attractions as a rain forest complete with dinosaurs, a toyland, and even a trip into the future. Giga World is being promoted as the 'world's longest building', but the Malaysian Nature Society is not impressed. According to the society, what Kuala Lumpur really needs is 'a linear garden and not a linear city'. Dr Salleh Mohamed Nor of the Malaysian Nature Society said that the project would not beautify the Klang, as the developers have claimed it would, but that it would only help to add to the pollution of the river. 'One does not beautify a city by building over a river,' Dr Salleh said. 'Beautification is achieved by planting more trees, flowering plants and having more nature parks,' he added. Dr Salleh said the river should be cleaned rather than covered with a huge structure, which he said would 'disguise the pollution and increase the odour'. Although government guidelines state permanent buildings and infrastructure should not be allowed on the river or river reserve land on which the Kuala Lumpur Linear City's foundations will stand, the Department of the Environment has approved the project's environmental impact assessment. In view of this development and reports that the Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, is in favour of the project, opponents have little hope of stopping it.