PETALING JAYA - Eighteen cars and two motorcycles were torched yesterday in scuffles involving some 50 men who entered a Hindu temple in a suburb of Petaling Jaya to attack those inside, in an escalation of a land dispute between a property developer and temple devotees.
At least a dozen people were injured in the 2am attack at the Sri Maha Mariamman temple, with police and top politicians calling for calm and saying the incident was not related to race or religion.
The developer of the residential project, One City Development, had reached a court settlement in March 2014 with temple representatives to relocate the century-old temple in Subang Jaya township to another location 3.5km away, with the company saying it will donate RM1.5 million (S$490,000) for the construction of a new temple.
Talks on the relocation have been ongoing since 2007.
While some temple devotees agreed to the move, others want to stay put.
The last deadline given for the relocation was Nov 22, after which the temple had raised security by placing more people on nightwatch.
Temple devotees claimed the men who attacked them cited the name of One City.
"The group of Malay men carrying knives, axes and steel rods attacked us and told us to get out of the temple. They said the land is owned by One City," temple committee member Yuvaraj Nagaraju told The Straits Times.
In response, the developer has denied any involvement in the scuffle.
"Allegations that One City orchestrated the incident are malicious lies. One City condemns any acts of violence or any insinuations that would resort to such despicable acts," it said in a statement.
The company added that creating tension on its own land is disadvantageous to its position, and it defeats the purpose of undergoing a lengthy legal process and seeking the authorities' help to relocate the temple.
Videos of the scuffle have gone viral on social media, raising concerns over stoking racial tensions, especially as some of the attackers were identified as Malay Muslims.
Police at one point deployed more than 700 riot policemen to the site.
By yesterday evening, a crowd of some 100 people remained within the temple grounds, with police monitoring the vicinity.
Temple devotees showed up throughout the day to show their support.
"It's our temple. If we don't defend it who would?" said Kaliadass Elanchelian, 25. The physiotherapist took leave to be at the temple.
"The temple has been here for so long. Just because there's a development, it's unfair to ask us to move elsewhere," he adds.
Government lawmakers criticised the police for its slow response to the incident, and for initially misreporting that the scuffle was due to disagreements between opposing camps among temple devotees.
"We condemn this attack and those responsible for this violent incident must be arrested," said P. Waytha Moorthy, the de-facto minister of national unity and social wellbeing.
One City was formerly owned by listed property company MCT Bhd until Dec 2017, when it was sold off to Bras Ventures Bhd, a construction company.