21 held in melee over Malaysian temple land dispute
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian police said Tuesday that 21 people have been arrested over rioting that broke out amid a dispute over the relocation of an Indian temple outside Kuala Lumpur. They said 12 people were injured, one critically.
The melee began Monday morning when a group of intruders attacked Indian devotees praying at the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in central Selangor state’s Subang Jaya township and burned vehicles. Another group of men retaliated Tuesday morning by vandalizing the office of property developer MCT Berhad near the temple and also set some vehicles ablaze.
MCT’s unit, One City Development Sdn. Bhd., owns the land on which the temple sits and is embroiled in a legal tussle to relocate the century-old temple to a nearby area. Government officials and police were quick to deny rumors on social media that it was a racial conflict.
Selangor police chief Mazlan Mansor said 21 people were detained and will be investigated for rioting with weapons and arson. At least 12 people were injured, including a firefighter who is in critical condition after being pulled from his vehicle and bashed Tuesday morning.
He said nearly two dozen vehicles were burned but the situation is calm and under control. About 700 anti-riot personnel have been deployed to ensure peace in the area, he added.
Temple members told local media that the mob, mainly ethnic Malays, were armed with weapons such as knives and had told devotees to leave the temple because the land is owned by One City Development.
In a statement Monday, the developer denied that it orchestrated the attack on the temple. It said it abhorred the violence and had no reason to engage a mob after going through a lengthy court process. It said it had also offered compensation to build a new temple and had delayed the temple relocation to accommodate rituals tied to the move.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said in a statement later Tuesday that a preliminary police investigation showed it was a “criminal incident” that had nothing to do with race or religion.
He slammed the “irresponsible action of the criminals” and said those involved will be dealt with sternly.
“Racial issues or religious issues did not arise at all although it is related to the temple’s relocation,” Mahathir said.
Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin earlier warned the public not to make statements that could stoke racial disharmony and hurt national security.
Racial clashes have been rare in multiracial Malaysia since deadly race riots in 1969. Ethnic Malays account for nearly two-thirds of the country’s 31 million people, with large Chinese and Indian minorities.