Shops near Kuala Lumpur rally to close

Preparations at Padang Merbok in Kuala Lumpur for today's pro-Malay "red shirts" rally.
Preparations at Padang Merbok in Kuala Lumpur for today's pro-Malay "red shirts" rally.PHOTO; THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Vendors worried about trouble from march despite police assurances

Many businesses in the predominantly Chinese Bukit Bintang and Petaling Street areas will be closed as thousands march in a pro-Malay "red shirts" rally in the heart of Kuala Lumpur this afternoon.

A survey released yesterday found that just over half of Malays polled in Peninsular Malaysia do not support the rally.

Despite assurances from the police that firm action will be taken against those who break the law, vendors told The Straits Times that it is better to be safe than sorry.

"I'm closing tomorrow. I'm afraid of trouble," said a drinks stall operator in Bukit Bintang who gave her name as Ah Lian.

"Most people will be shutting their stalls anyway," she added, pointing to the food stalls along Jalan Alor, KL's famed food street.

Most of the shops in the busy IT mall, Low Yat Plaza - the scene of a racially charged brawl in July that left five people injured - are also expected to lower their shutters.

"Ninety-eight per cent of the shops here will be closed," said a computer shop employee.

Today's United Citizens' Assembly, also dubbed the Malay Dignity Gathering, was declared legal after it was initially banned by the police.

This was after organisers agreed not to march through predominantly Chinese areas such as Petaling Street and to apply for permission to use Padang Merbok, a field located away from KL's Central Business District, as the assembly point.

The rally - organised by the National Silat Federation (Pesaka), whose head is an Umno leader, Tan Sri Mohd Ali Mohd Rustam - is meant to counter last month's huge Bersih demonstration, which some Malay groups see as a bid by the Chinese to usurp political power.

Mr Ali insisted last weekend that the rally was open to all and people can wear any colour they wish.

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad yesterday called for the rally to be cancelled as it was "not fighting for Malays".

Many ruling Barisan Nasional leaders, including Prime Minister Najib Razak, will be in Kota Kinabalu to mark Malaysia Day today.

Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar, the country's top cop, left his deputy Noor Rashid Ibrahim in charge before leaving for Mecca yesterday.

Datuk Noor Rashid told The Straits Times that his men will be ready in case of trouble. "We will deploy 7,000 police personnel tomorrow morning at the strategic points that the gathering will pass through... We have advised (non- governmental organisations and stakeholders) and warned them against unruly behaviour," said Mr Noor Rashid, who has been described as a good and no- nonsense officer.

"Tomorrow will be peaceful. There is no need to be afraid."

The rally has four meeting points - the National Mosque, Federal Territory Mosque, Putra World Trade Centre, where Umno's headquarters are located, and the Craft Complex - for participants, who will end their march at Padang Merbok.

A survey by well-respected Merdeka Centre found that 53 per cent of Malays are against the rally, with 24 per cent in favour and 22 per cent unsure. It was conducted between Sept 10 and noon yesterday.

Those not in support of the rally say they are concerned it could cause chaos or create ethnic tensions and that it has no clear objectives, according to Merdeka Centre.

"In our view, Malay voters are at present largely more concerned over fundamental issues such as cost of living, employment and business opportunities as well as the impact of the goods and services tax," it said in a statement.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2015, with the headline 'Shops near KL rally to close'. Print Edition | Subscribe