Mall Melee Puts Malaysia On Edge

By Nani Yusof and Hata Wahari
150716-MY-lim-620 Malaysian opposition leader Lim Kit Siang (center) looks on during a rally at a stadium in Kelana Jaya, Selangor, May 8, 2013.

Malaysian police have released nearly all 26 people who were detained after a bloody brawl in the capital Kuala Lumpur, which raised inter-ethnic tensions in multiracial Malaysia.

At least five people were injured when a riot broke out on Sunday night at the Plaza Low Yat shopping mall, after a 22-year-old ethnic Malay man was handed over to the police for allegedly stealing a mobile phone from a store. Plaza Low Yat is mostly run by ethnic Chinese, and specializes in electronics and IT products.

Police Inspector-General Khalid Abu Bakar said the man, who was later released, had returned to the mobile phone store and assaulted its workers.

Later, some 200 angry Malays turned up at the mall where scuffles broke out. At least five people, including journalists, were injured, raising concerns in social media of larger riots breaking out in the predominantly Muslim Malay country.

References were also made to the bloody May 13, 1969 incident when about 200 people were said to have been killed in clashes in and around Kuala Lumpur, after opposition parties supported by the ethnic Chinese community made inroads in a general election.

Both the government and the opposition condemned the Low Yat incident. Prime Minister Najib Razak said it stemmed from a simple crime and was not based on a racial problem, as alleged by some groups.

"It is a criminal act but in the end it becomes a racial incident," he said earlier this week. "Such things should not have happened in our country.”
Najib asked the police to act effectively to prevent such incidents from recurring.

Allegations of sedition

Police arrested 26 people over the brawl but have released 25 on bail, pending possible charges to be filed in court.

Among them, three people, a politician from Najib's United Malays National Organization (UMNO), and a blogger and an activist, were held under the Sedition Act.

Blogger Wan Mohd Azri Wan Deris, or Papagomo, still is in custody and is expected to be released by the weekend, police spokeswoman Asmawati Ahmad said.

The latest to be freed was Shaik Hussein Mydin, chairman of an UMNO division in the northern state of Penang.

According to reports, Shaik Hussein had criticized police chief Khalid in an online messaging group. Khalid had said he was arrested for attempting to incite racial hatred and not because he had criticized him.

“I was freed from police custody at 4:30 p.m. today (Thursday) and I'm on my way to Penang from Kuala Lumpur," Shaik Hussein told BenarNews by telephone.

Call for inquiry

Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang demanded that the government set up a royal commission of inquiry into the incident at the shopping center. The probe should look into whether the police acted pre-emptively to prevent the petty crime of a mobile phone theft from turning into a race riot and the role of social media in stirring tensions, he said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

Lim also wanted the investigation to study whether the incident was a result of incitement of hatred through what he called irresponsible politics of race and religion, and whether it was proof of a failure in the government’s nation-building policies.

“We must take the Low Yat Mob Incident seriously, with the emphasis on finding its causes, especially the macro ones, to prevent a recurrence of any racial riot in Kuala Lumpur or any part of Malaysia as we must prevent any recurrence of a petty crime transforming into a race riot in our multi-racial nation as it will have far-reaching and adverse impact on our investment and socio-economic climate for the future,” the Democratic Action Party leader added.


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