Malaysian police have stepped up security ahead of a planned rally by Malay rights NGOs on Wednesday (Sep 16).
Dubbed the United Peoples Rally, their main aim is to uphold Malay dignity and counter the Bersih 4 rally held a fortnight ago on the eve of Malaysia's national day.
Protesters clad in red shirts plan to march along Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Bintang shopping district before converging at Padang Merbok. Major shopping malls, including the Pavilion, have told tenants with street access to lock their doors.
Despite the worsening haze, which has forced schools to close across the country, the organiser of the red shirt rally is pushing ahead with its plans. About 2000 buses have been arranged to ferry 50,000 protesters into the capital. There are four major gathering points for the rally, including the national mosque, the craft centre and the Putra World Trade Centre.
Malaysians are jittery ahead of the rally. The rally's aim is to counter the Bersih 4 rally, which was seen by the "red shirts" as a show of force by a predominantly Chinese group against the Malay political powers.
Hundreds of hawkers and traders in Chinatown have opted to close for business on Wednesday, which is a public holiday to mark Malaysia Day.
"Everyone realises that this country cannot afford another incident like what happened at Low Yat Plaza,” said Ambiga Sreenevasan, former Malaysian Bar Council president, referring to a recent riot outside a popular mall in the capital. “We have enough problems as it is, the last thing we want is that kind of problem. It may well backfire; racism always backfires."
Many of the red shirt protesters are members and grassroots leaders of the ruling UMNO party. Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is party president, has given his tacit approval, provided the rally is not racially driven and adheres to the law.
"It's a free country but the laws must be followed,” said Mr Najib. “No one is above the law, including UMNO members."
Among the organisers of the rally are the former Chief Minister of Malacca Ali Rustam, an Umno divisional leader Jamal Yunus, as well as special affairs department chief Fuad Zakarshi.