Malaysia to allow rally amid fears of racial tensions

The anti-Bersih group dressed in red, demonstrating their skills such as breaking tiles and woods with their heads and back on Aug 25, 2015 in front of Sogo shopping complex.
The anti-Bersih group dressed in red, demonstrating their skills such as breaking tiles and woods with their heads and back on Aug 25, 2015 in front of Sogo shopping complex. PHOTO: MALAYSIA KINI

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysian authorities said on Monday (Sept 14) they have given approval for a rally by pro-government ethnic Malay demonstrators, an event which critics say will fan tensions in the multiracial nation.

Kuala Lumpur mayor Amin Nordin Abdul Aziz, quoted by the state-owned Bernama news agency, confirmed approval was granted for the so-called "red shirt" rally for ethnic Malay rights on Wednesday.

It is being billed as a counterpoint to massive demonstrations in the capital in late August by yellow-shirted protesters demanding Prime Minister Najib Razak's resignation over a financial scandal, and broader reform by the government.

But the perceived pro-Malay tone of the event has drawn criticism from both ruling party and opposition figures that it was racially provocative.

Organisers had earlier announced plans to march through a busy tourist district that includes many Chinese-owned shops, but have only received approval to rally at a central park.

"My advice to the 'Red Shirts' is not to provoke the other races. We want to hold a peaceful protest. The Chinese in Kuala Lumpur need not shut their shops out of fear," said Jamal Yunos, organising chairman.

He lashed out, however, at Chinese elements in the opposition, saying their actions threatened to "split" the nation.

Malays have dominated the government since independence in 1957. They enjoy economic and other privileges, compared to minority ethnic Chinese and Indians, under a longstanding affirmative action programme.

Last month's demonstrations by tens of thousands of people were attended largely by ethnic Chinese, who make up around a quarter of the population but dominate commercial life.

Those protests triggered fresh rhetoric by hardline Malays who believe their rights are under threat from the Chinese.

Jamal said the protest was intended to support Najib and Malay rights.

Najib has been under growing pressure to resign since The Wall Street Journal revealed in early July that Malaysian investigators had found nearly $700 million in deposits in his personal bank accounts.

His government has since acknowledged the deposits, calling them "political donations" from Middle Eastern sources but refusing to give further details.

Jamal, a member of Najib's ruling party the United Malays National Organisation, said about 250 Malay organisations backed the rally and thousands were expected to attend.

Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said his forces "will ensure that it is carried out in a peaceful and disciplined manner".