Eighteen cars and two motorcycles were torched yesterday in a scuffle 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 an area 3.5km away.
The company offered to 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 wanted to stay put.
The deadline for the relocation was last Thursday, after which the temple raised security by placing more people on night watch.
Devotees claimed the men who attacked them mentioned One City.
Temple committee member Yuvaraj Nagaraju told The Straits Times: "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."
The developer has denied any involvement in the scuffle.
"Allegations that One City orchestrated the incident are malicious lies. One City condemns any act of violence or any insinuation that it would resort to such despicable acts," it said in a statement.
One City added that it was a disadvantage for the company to create tension on its own land. Besides, it had gone through a lengthy legal process and had sought the help of the authorities to get the temple relocated.
Videos of the scuffle have gone viral on social media, raising concerns that it may stoke racial tension, especially since some of the attackers were identified as Malay Muslims.
At one point, more than 700 riot policemen were deployed to the scene.
By yesterday evening, a crowd of some 100 people remained on the temple grounds and police were patrolling the vicinity.
Temple devotees showed up throughout the day to show their support.
"It's our temple. If we don't defend it, who will?" said physiotherapist Kaliadass Elanchelian, 25, who 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 added.
Lawmakers criticised the police for their slow response to the incident, and for initially misreporting that the scuffle was due to disagreements between opposing camps of temple devotees.
"We condemn this attack and those responsible for this violent incident must be arrested," said Mr P. Waytha Moorthy, the de facto minister for national unity and social well-being.
One City was owned by listed property company MCT until December last year, when it was sold to Bras Ventures, a construction company.