Tens of thousands of people in red T-shirts marched through the heart of Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday (Sept 16) to support embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak and to assert the Malays' political power in a racially tinged rally, which was largely peaceful but turned unruly on two occasions.
At one point early in the rally, protesters breached police barricades to march through the out-of- bounds Bukit Bintang area, and in the early evening a rowdier crowd clashed with riot police at Petaling Street, forcing police to disperse them with water cannon.
Business operators, especially those who are Chinese, had closed their shops for fear of trouble. The two predominantly Chinese areas were designated no-go zones for the rally. Red is the colour of Datuk Seri Najib's Umno party.
The rally was held to counter August's Bersih protest, which called for Mr Najib to step down over a funding controversy and was attended largely by Chinese.
Tan Sri Mohd Ali Mohd Rustam, an Umno leader whose National Silat Federation was the official rally organiser, said many had disrespected the country, Islam and Malays of late. "We are so disappointed with them. So today we are here peacefully to show our feelings," he told the crowd at Padang Merbok, where the rally kicked off.
Although Umno insisted it neither organised nor sponsored the rally, one of the four starting points for the march to Padang Merbok was the Putra World Trade Centre, where Umno's headquarters are located.
Those leading groups from the other three points were also senior Umno members. Among those who addressed the three-hour rally at a field were several MPs and former ministers.
Datuk Ibrahim Ali, who heads the Malay rights group Perkasa, lamented being wrong in thinking that the Chinese "would be grateful when we accepted them".
The former Umno Supreme Council member laid the blame on the opposition Democratic Action Party, which has been accused by some pro-Malay groups of using electoral reform group Bersih to try to usurp power from the Malays. At last month's Bersih rally, some participants were seen stomping on pictures of the Prime Minister and of Parti Islam SeMalaysia leader Abdul Hadi Awang.
The rally attracted 250,000 people, Umno leader Annuar Musa claimed in his speech. Police, however, put the number at 30,000.
Several speakers from Umno and pro-Malay non-governmental organisations also called for the return of the Internal Security Act, which was repealed by Mr Najib in 2012 after critics accused the government of abusing the Act's provision for detention without trial to stifle dissent.
Mr Najib was in Sabah on Wednesday to mark Malaysia Day.
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