Thu, Sep 17, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Pro-Najib rally brings racial element to protests


“Red Shirt” demonstrators gather for a rally in Kuala Lumpur yesterday to celebrate Malaysia Day and to counter a massive protest held over two days last month that called for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s resignation over a graft scandal.

Photo: Reuters

Pro-Malay protesters gathered in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur in a rally backing Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak that may stoke racial tension in the secular Muslim nation.

The protest is a riposte to an anti-government rally late last month that drew hundreds of thousands — many of them ethnic Chinese — calling for Najib’s resignation over a funding scandal.

City police Chief Tajuddin Mohd Isa said there were about 15,000 so far at yesterday’s gathering.

Some roads in central Kuala Lumpur were blocked off amid a heavy police presence. At a subway station near the city’s famous Petronas Twin Towers, a group of about 50 men wore red T- shirts emblazoned with a keris — a dagger regarded as a symbol of Malay supremacy — or with the words “Rise Malays.”

The rally brings a racial element to two months of upheaval for Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy, which faces an exodus of capital amid worsening global growth and whose currency has been the worst performer in Asia this year. Najib has been strongly supported by ethnic Malays over a scandal involving the debt-ridden state investment company.

Only one-third of the protesters at last month’s anti-government rally were Malay, with the gathering dominated by ethnic Chinese who have drifted from Najib’s coalition in recent years. Malays account for as much as 60 percent of the country’s 30 million people, though estimates vary, and are the cornerstone of Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

Najib was a teenager when riots erupted between Muslim Malays and ethnic Chinese in Kuala Lumpur in 1969.

His father Abdul Razak Hussein became prime minister the following year and responded with a program to reduce Chinese dominance in business by giving preferential treatment to Bumiputeras, which refers to the Malay and indigenous people. Those programs still exist today.

Yesterday’s rally had the support of some UMNO members, with the party’s information chief Ahmad Maslan making an appearance and estimating the crowd at 100,000.

Police will act against anyone inciting racial tensions, the Star reported, citing Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Around the city, protesters carried banners saying: “Malaysia Belongs to the Malays,” while there were reports of Chinese businesses shuttering for the day.

The protest coincides with Malaysia Day, the 52nd anniversary of its formation through the amalgamation of Malaya, the British colonies of North Borneo and Sarawak, and Singapore. Singapore left the federation in 1965. Najib is in Sabah state to mark the day.

Former Malaysian deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the best way to fight for the “dignity of the Malays” is not by arousing racial sentiments.

“While we respect the right of individuals to assemble, it must be remembered that an issue no less important is peace and racial harmony and national security,” Muhyiddin said on Facebook.

Muhyiddin was dumped from his Cabinet post in late July for calling for an explanation on reports Najib received billions of ringgit linked to 1MDB in his private accounts in 2013.

Najib has denied the claims.

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