JAKARTA/KUALA LUMPUR - Muslim protesters rallied in Asian cities on Friday (Dec 8) to voice their anger over a controversial decision by United States President Donald Trump to reverse a longstanding policy to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Thousands took to the streets in Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Pakistan, demanding that Mr Trump retract the decision.
More than 1,000 people, led by Malaysian political parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), thronged Jalan Tun Razak in downtown Kuala Lumpur, to demand that Mr Trump retract the decision.
The crowd chanted, “Long Live Palestine! Long Live Islam”, as they marched down one of the city’s busiest roads, bringing traffic to a standstill.
Banners with the words, “Down to USA’s President Trump” and “Destroy Zionists” were held up as Umno Youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin roused the crowd.
“Mr President, this is an illegal announcement. Jerusalem is an occupied territory,” said the Youth and Sports Minister, addressing Mr Trump. “You must not even step foot into Jerusalem and make that the capital of Israel.”
Smaller turnout than expected
In Jakarta, police spokesman Argo Yuwono said earlier that security around the US embassy had been beefed up in anticipation that up to a thousand protestors may show up.
But the turnout in Jakarta was smaller than expected after a planned street march from the Palestinian embassy to the US mission was cancelled because the police refused to issue a permit for it.
Among the protestors in Jakarta were members of the Al Aqsa Working Group, United Development Party (PPP), a Muslim political party and the Islamic Defenders Front.
PPP members were the first to gather outside the US embassy in Jakarta from about 10am local time, carrying placards that read, “Jerusalem is not Israel’s capital” and “We are with Palestine”.
The crowd slowly grew to a few hundred after Friday prayers, with many dressed in traditional Arabic clothing known as jubah, and chanting the takbir, or “Allahu Akbar”, which means God is the greatest.
The demonstrations were relatively muted for both cities. In 2016, nearly 10,000 people in Kuala Lumpur protested the mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar while Jakarta saw tens of thousands rally against former governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama for blasphemy against Islam.
Meanwhile in Singapore, the sermon delivered at all mosques during Friday prayers called for peace, tranquility and security in the world, including in the Middle East, and asked for guidance in finding peaceful solutions for those conflicts.
About 3,000 people in Bangladesh gathered in front of the main mosque in the capital, Dhaka, to protest. In Pakistan’s major cities, hundreds of Islamists hardliners rallied in small groups.
“Down with America, down with Israel and no to Israel occupation,” chanted protesters in the cities of Lahore and Peshawar.
Controversial Pakistani cleric Hafiz Saeed promised bigger protests over Jerusalem and urged the government to convene a conference of Muslim-majority states. “Pakistan should take the lead, being the only nuclear state of the Islamic world,” said Saeed, who was released from house arrest last month by a Pakistani court.
The United States and India blame Saeed as the mastermind of the attacks that killed 166 people in India’s financial capital, Mumbai.
In Kashmir, small groups of people protested in Srinagar, the capital of the Indian portion of the divided Muslim-majority region that is claimed by both India and Pakistan. “We condemn the idiot Trump’s decision,” said a placard on an effigy of the US president.
'No hope for peace'
Earlier on Friday, Malaysian opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan handed over a memorandum of protest to the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur against the proclamation of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Mr Khairy also did the same on behalf of Umno’s Youth Wing, handing over a letter that stated the move by Mr Trump would “intensify the radicalisation of extremists and further create instability in the Middle East”.
“We are not here for conflict but we want to make sure even the most powerful man in the free world, respects international law,” said Mr Khairy when addressing the crowd.
PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang issued a statement on Friday, branding Mr Trump’s move as being emboldened by its close friendship with Saudi Arabia.
“There is no hope for peace from Americans and Zionists known as the world’s terrorist leaders and main murderers of Muslims,” Mr Hadi added.
The protestors in the two largest Muslim-majority countries in South-east Asia were echoing the condemnation of many world leaders in recent days, who say Mr Trump's move could have grave repercussions for security and stability, as well as derail counter-terrorism efforts.
The move could also test US relations with allies of Muslim-majority countries in South-east Asia.
The Jakarta Post on Friday reported a diplomatic gaffe by the US embassy over a statement it issued in Indonesia claiming it had "consulted with US allies and partners, including Indonesia", implying that Jakarta had been informed of, and by implication, agreed with, the decision before Mr Trump publicly recognised Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
The move led to a quick clarification by the US Ambassador to Indonesia Joseph Donovan, who called it a "misunderstanding on the contradiction between the English statement and its translation into Indonesian on our website".
"The English statement is the accurate one," he told reporters. "And I regret the statement in Bahasa Indonesia is inaccurate. I clarify that Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi was not aware of President Trump's decision before it was decided."
Several world leaders have said Mr Trump's latest move could provoke a serious backlash, even as clashes broke out in the Palestinian territories on Thursday following his speech where he described his decision as "a long overdue step to advance the peace process".
Many other countries across the world had raised concerns that the reversal of a decades-old policy by the Americans would instead hamper the peace process. Most advocate a two-state solution, which envisions an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital alongside Israel.
Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and declared the entire city as its capital in 1980, in a move condemned by the international community.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY REUTERS