The Malaysian authorities have promised to keep the planned Sept 16 "red shirt" rally in check amid growing safety concerns over the event that has gained the tacit backing of the ruling Umno party.
The controversial rally in the Malaysian capital organised by Malay rights group Pesaka has been called to counter the Bersih 4 protest last month. Critics have said the Bersih rally, which was called to demand electoral reforms, was dominated by the Chinese to challenge the political power of the Malays.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister and Umno president Najib Razak said the party would not stop its members from joining the rally because Malaysia is a free country. But he warned participants to respect the law and the authorities.
Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin yesterday echoed Datuk Seri Najib's decision that Umno would neither endorse the gathering nor stop members from taking part in it. "I defer to the comments of the PM, let that represent the position of the party," he told reporters yesterday.
Concerns, though, remain in a country haunted by deadly race riots in 1969 that left scores dead.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak said yesterday that the Communications and Multimedia Commission would monitor and block any blogs or websites seen promoting the rally if it was declared illegal by the police. "We will monitor, as what (we did) during Bersih. But until today, there is no decision from the police and I was informed that they (the organisers) are still applying for the approval from the relevant authorities," he said yesterday.
Supporters of the "red shirt" rally are expected to gather in Bukit Bintang in central Kuala Lumpur, for 12 hours, from noon. Sept 16 is also Malaysia Day. The police are trying to dissuade the rally organisers from holding it there because of security concerns and because the area is seen as a symbol of Chinese commerce.
Malaysia's Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, on Wednesday ordered the Kuala Lumpur police chief to hold a meeting with the organisers as soon as possible. But Bukit Bintang Kuala Lumpur City Centre Tourism Association said businesses in the area would continue as usual after meetings with the police.
Malay rights activist and Umno grassroots leader Jamal Yunos said yesterday that the "red shirt" rally was to serve as a lesson to the ethnic Chinese who purportedly insulted Malay leaders during the Bersih protest. The Malay Mail quoted him as saying that more than 750 Malay NGOs had been invited by Pesaka to join the rally, which he said would attract about 30,000 people.
But not all Malay groups back the rally. Opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and Malay rights group Perkasa have confirmed they will not attend.
Jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim condemned the rally yesterday as unIslamic and said Umno leaders had lost their moral bearing through their subtle support for the racially charged protest.
Former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who attended the Bersih rally, yesterday again called on Umno members to rethink their commitment towards Mr Najib or risk losing the next general election. "If you love Umno, reject Najib now. If you love Najib, Umno will lose power and crumble," he wrote in his blog chedet.cc.