Thousands join KL 'red shirt' rally
TENS of thousands wearing red shirts, almost all ethnic Malays, demonstrated support yesterday for Prime Minister Najib Razak's government at a rally in downtown Kuala Lumpur that stoked fears of racial tensions.
At one point, riot police from the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) used water cannons to disperse thousands of red-shirted protesters trying to break through barricades at Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown, singing slogans denouncing ethnic Chinese community and opposition party leaders, reported Reuters.
FRU arrested several protesters, including two from Umno Youth, the youth wing of the ruling United Malays National Organisation, news website Malaysian Insider reported.
The rally, which lasted about six hours, ended in the evening. As the crowd streamed away from Padang Merbok, the heart of the event, many still lingered outside Petaling Street, according to Malaysian Insider.
But legislator Annuar Musa, one of the event's organisers, told reporters that the troublemakers were a separate group as Petaling Street had never been in the rally's plan.
There were no reports of major injuries.
According to the police, up to 30,000 marchers thronged the city centre throughout the event, holding banners and shouting slogans in support of Mr Najib, who is battling allegations of graft and mismanagement at indebted state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
The demonstration was supported by prominent figures in Umno, such as International Trade and Industry Deputy Minister Ahmad Maslan, and non-government bodies such as Islamic charity Pekida and Malay dominance group Perkasa.
Young Malay men made up the majority of the demonstrators.
Organisers brought in many from the countryside, where support for Umno is strongest, by bus.
The protest was called in response to a massive one held on Aug 29 and 30 that called for Mr Najib's resignation over the graft scandal.
The red-shirt demonstrators said those anti-Najib protesters, who wore yellow shirts, were mainly ethnic Chinese and had insulted the country's Malay leaders.
"Our Malay way of life is under threat. We want to support Malays, Mr Najib, and tell the Chinese to keep their place," the Agence France-Presse quoted demonstrator Faisal Nur, 23, as saying.
"Long live Malays," said one banner, while another said "Don't look down and insult the Malays."
"We are tolerant towards other races. We allow them to get education and earn a living here... What is wrong in being racist when we are not cruel to others?" Mr Annuar said in his rally speech.
The demonstration brought business to a standstill in downtown Kuala Lumpur, as shops and businesses were shuttered, and several roads were closed to traffic.
The police had earlier said that the rally is legal, but declared three Chinese-dominated areas as off-limits.
Delivering a speech in Sabah yesterday to commemorate the formation of the Malaysia federation in 1963, Mr Najib warned of the dangers of polarisation.
"It is not right to organise rallies dominated by one race, with the expressed aim of toppling the government," said Mr Najib, apparently alluding to the yellow-shirt rally last month.
"As we have seen, this then leads to rallies by other races. This could not be more dangerous and risks tearing apart the fabric of our democracy, our harmony, our unity," he added.
Yesterday's rally has been criticised as racially provocative by leading figures in both Umno, including former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, and the opposition.