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Thousands of people attended the anti ICERD rally at Dataran Merdeka today. - NSTP pic by Asyraf Hamzah

KUALA LUMPUR: Tens of thousands rallied at Dataran Merdeka, here, to protest against the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), today.

Police had stated that about 55,000 attended the rally, which is a far cry from the estimated 500,000 as claimed by organisers.

However the organisers still insisted that it was successful at meeting its target.

The event was claimed to be the largest after the Bersih rallies, where hundreds of thousands were said to have participated to protest against electoral fraud and discrepancies allegedly committed by the previous government.

The rally was held despite the government's assurance that it would not ratify the convention which was staunchly championed by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department P. Waytha Moorthy.

ICERD is said to be a threat to Islam and Malay rights as enshrined under the Federal Constitution.

Rally-goers marched from five starting points - Sogo shopping centre, Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC), Masjid Jamek, National Mosque and Istana Negara - to Dataran Merdeka, undeterred by the sweltering afternoon heat.

Many had travelled from states via chartered buses, including from Kelantan and Penang.

It was reported that about 50 buses ferried Penang PAS members to Kuala Lumpur two days ago.

Police and Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) security barricades were erected at roads leading to Dataran Merdeka, Sogo and Istana Negara to allow ease of passage for the rally-goers.

Mostly clad in white T-shirts with graphics of numerous anti-ICERD wordings, the crowd arrived at the venue to greetings of "takbir" and chants of "tolak ICERD".

The crowd, some armed with placards, sat cross-legged on Jalan Raja, next to Dataran Merdeka, before an open white stage.

The venue was surrounded by a host of policemen, Rela Corps members and city hall enforcement team to prevent untoward incidents.

Out of the 20-odd speakers, among the main highlights were speeches by Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan and PAS deputy president Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man.

Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak was also present to lend his support.

The gist of their speeches included pledges to uphold the sanctity of Islam and Malay rights, rejecting ICERD, and calls for Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to sack Waytha Moorthy.

Umno leaders also took the opportunity to call for unity or a pact between Umno and PAS "for the future of Malays and Islam".

Ahmad Zahid said the Umno-PAS pact should go beyond the relationship of the two as Opposition parties.

"Cooperation between Umno and PAS should be on issues pertaining to Islam and Malay rights. It should not only focus on political purposes.

"The people are hoping for cooperation between Umno and PAS. Therefore, from now on, I want Pas and Umno members to be united."

Pasir Salak member of Parliament Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, who is also the ICERD rally coordinator for Umno, called for Dr Mahathir to remove Waytha Moorthy from office.

"The prime minister should not be afraid. Just sack Waytha Moorthy.

"The Malays and Muslims in the country will not bow down to global pressure (on ICERD)."

When met later, Najib told reporters that the rally represented the majority who were against ICERD.

"This is not about going against other races," he said.

Tuan Ibrahim also said the rally was not against other religions in the country.

"We are here to talk about our rights. We are not against Hindus, Christians or Buddhists."

Abdul Hadi was more vociferous in his tone, despite appearing ill coupled with intermittent voice breaks.

"We cannot let people from other countries dictate what we can or cannot do in our country.

"We should not listen to those who give more rights to animals, rather than their fellow men."

Earlier, the speech by Abdul Hadi was held back for a few minutes, to give way for the call to Asar prayers by Umno Youth chief Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki.

The crowd however dispersed when it began to drizzle at about 4.30pm, cutting short the event which was earlier scheduled to end at 6pm.

As of press time, no untoward incidents were reported.

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