After Tough Year, Malaysians Celebrate National Day

Amir Hadi Azmi
2016.08.31
Kuala Lumpur
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Performers dressed in traditional attire participate in the National Day parade in Kuala Lumpur, Aug. 31, 2016. [Amir Hadi Azmi/BenarNews]

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The Royal Malay Regiment marching band marches during the National Day parade, Aug. 31, 2016. [Amir Hadi Azmi/BenarNews]

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Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (left), Prime Minister Najib Razak (second from left), King Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah and Queen Haminah Hamidun wave national flags at the National Day celebration, Aug. 31, 2016. [AFP]

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Schoolchildren perform during the 59th National Day celebrations at Independence Square, Aug. 31, 2016. [AFP]

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Malaysian motorcycle police travel the National Day parade route in Kuala Lumpur, Aug. 31, 2016. [Amir Hadi Azmi/BenarNews]

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Malaysian military personnel take part in the 59th National Day celebrations at Independence Square, Aug. 31, 2016. [AFP]

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Malaysian Olympians are paraded through the city in an open-top bus in honor of National Day, Aug. 31, 2016 [Amir Hadi Azmi/BenarNews]

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Crowds of people walk back after watching 59th National Day celebrations at Independence Square, Aug. 31, 2016 [AFP]

Thousands of Malaysians congregated at Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday to celebrate Malaysia’s 59th year of independence, setting aside worries about troubles buffeting their country.

The fanfare contrasted starkly with a student protest held near the same square four days earlier that called for the arrest of Malaysian Official 1 (MO1), a person named in U.S, lawsuits aiming to seize assets acquired with money that was allegedly stolen from troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). MO1 is widely believed to be Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Also this week, Kuala Lumpur and much of southern peninsular Malaysia was blanketed by thick haze from fires in nearby Sumatra, Indonesia.

Meanwhile, alarm was growing over the potential spread of Zika, as cases of the mosquito-borne virus soared to 82 in neighboring Singapore. A 47-year-old Malaysian woman was the first person confirmed infected with Zika in the city state, where tens of thousands of Malaysians work each day, commuting from neighboring Johor.

On top of this, two months ago Malaysia suffered its first Islamic State-claimed terrorist attack when a grenade was thrown outside a nightclub near Kuala Lumpur, injuring several people who were watching a football match on television.

Balancing the bad news, Malaysia’s best-ever showing at the Olympic Games in Rio this month gave people something to cheer about: four silvers and a bronze medal.

In his National Day address broadcast on Tuesday night, Najib urged Malaysians to guard against “moments of disunity” that could disrupt peace in the country.

Merdeka [independence] means standing on our own two feet, according to our own mold of what we want. Merdeka means being free of outside interference,” he said.

The Federation of Malaya gained independence from Britain in 1957. Sarawak and Sabah, both Borneo island states, along with Singapore, won freedom from Britain and joined the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia in 1963. Singapore left Malaysia in 1965 but Sabah and Sarawak remained – occasionally complaining that their powers are being eroded.

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