Malaysian police fired water cannons at protesters who turned unruly Wednesday during a rally in Kuala Lumpur in support of the government. Thousands of people reportedly gathered to counter resignation calls for Prime Minister Najib Razak over a financial scandal.
Hundreds of protesters, which included members of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), pelted riot police with plastic bottles and tried to push their way through barricades into Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown. The protesters claimed to "uphold Malay dignity" and shouted "This is Malay land" during the demonstrations.
"We will not provoke anyone or spark a racial clash. We will not riot," Jamal Yunos, a key organizer and a senior UMNO official, told BBC. According to UMNO, last month's rallies demanding Najib's resignation over a financial scandal were attended by anti-government ethnic Chinese.
Malaysian authorities feared Wednesday's rally would become racially charged. Najib, the president of UMNO, has not officially endorsed the rally but allowed it to go ahead, warning protesters against using banners with sensitive racial overtones. Most of the rally was peacefully held at a central field near Parliament.
"I am here to defend Malay dignity and dominance," Rahamah Abdul Majid, one of the protesters, told the Associated Press. "We must not let others take over our country."
Deputy Trade Minister Ahmad Maslan reportedly attended the rally as a "show of support for the government."
Protests in the Southeast Asian country began after a report by the Wall Street Journal alleged that Najib had pocketed $700 million from the indebted state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) into his personal account. However, Najib, who is also the investment firm’s chairman, has denied any wrongdoing.
Malaysia’s anti-corruption commission has also cleared Najib -- who established 1MDB in 2009 to turn Kuala Lumpur into a financial hub -- of all charges, stating that the money came from unnamed foreign donors.