A rally of thousands of ethnic Malays froze the city of Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, with police resorting to water cannons to subdue the group. The Malay majority organized to show support for Prime Minister Najib Razak as he faces a corruption probe but had clear ethnic undertones as many chanted anti-Chinese slogans.
Many of the protesters, journalists report, were young men expressing a concern that their ethnic identity was threatened by a push to investigate the prime minister for corruption, backed by a number of ethnic minorities, including the Chinese. “Our Malay way of life is under threat. We want to support Malays, Najib, and tell the Chinese to keep their place,” Faisal Nur, a 23-year-old protester, told Agence France-Presse. “This protest is to tell that the official religion of this country is Islam, and Malays are the rightful owner of this country,” another protester, Azim Lubis, told Reuters.
Malaysia’s New Straits Times reports that about 8,000 people organized in the capital, holding up signs reading “Reject Foreign Intervention” and “Defend Malay Rights.” Most protesters were wearing red, the color of Najib Razak’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
Protesters demanded to close of blocks of streets in which most businesses were minority-owned, but found resistance from the police. Video shows the protesters being held back physically by police and by water cannons.
The Malaysia Star is reporting that two police officers were injured in the clashes, as well as one protester. Police have told reporters that they are working very diligently to avoid any injuries among the protesters, and the large number of people makes it difficult for them to keep the peace without hurting anyone. “There are a lot of women here, there are a lot of children here. We cannot engage,” one police officer tells the publication.
The Prime Minister is currently facing an investigation into how the 1Malaysia Development Bhd state fund appears to have lost $600 million, with prosecutors looking for evidence of embezzlement. In August, thousands of mostly minority members organized to call for Najib’s resignation and to assert their identity as Malaysians. “We the Malaysians want to clean up this country, we reject dirty politics,” one protester told Australia’s ABC.
Najib has responded to the rallies by warning that political alliances should not be blended too closely to ethnic identities, for violence could develop. “It is not right to organise rallies dominated by one race, with the expressed aim of toppling the government,” he said, referring to the rally against him in particular. “As we have seen, this then leads to rallies by other races. This could not be more dangerous and risks tearing apart the fabric of our democracy, our harmony, our unity,” he added.
Nijab’s UMNO has ruled Malaysia for 58 years.