Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has led a protest rally against what he called a "genocide" of Muslim Rohingya minority in Burma.
Najib says Sunday's rally at a stadium Kuala Lumpur in Muslim-majority Malaysia sends a strong message to Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her government that "enough is enough" as he vowed to fight for the rights of the Rohingya.
Mr Najib said to loud cheers from thousands of Muslims, including Rohingya refugees. "The world cannot say it is not our problem. It is our problem," he said.
The plight of Rohingya in predominantly-Buddhist Burma has galvanized Muslims in Southeast Asia and beyond. Denied citizenship although they have lived in Burma for generations, Rohingya have faced persecution that exploded in intercommunal violence in Rakhine state in 2012 that left hundreds dead and forced more than 100,000 into squalid camps.
The violence has again flared up as Burma's military launched attacks on Rohingya villages following deadly strikes by unknown assailants on police posts along the border with Bangladesh in October.
The top US diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Russel, said that the escalation of violence risks inciting jihadi extremism in Burma and Bangladesh and called on neighbouring countries, including Malaysia and Indonesia, to resist the urge to stage protests that could further stir religious passions.
Mr Najib said the persecution of the Rohingya is an insult on Islam. He said he had asked Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to stage a similar rally in Jakarta to put the pressure on Burma, because he said the charter of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to which all three countries belong, ensures the protection of human rights.
The Malaysian government-led protest marks a departure from the long-standing policy of non-interference by ASEAN members in each other's affairs.
"I will not close my eyes and shut my mouth. We must defend them (Rohingya) not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have values," Mr Najib said.
Some critics accuse Mr Najib, who is grappling with a financial scandal, of using the rally to win the support of his country's Muslim Malays ahead of general elections due in 2018, which may be called earlier.
In a strongly worded statement Saturday, Malaysia's Foreign Ministry said there were some 56,000 Rohingya refugees in Malaysia. It said it has an obligation to halt the "ethnic cleansing" of the Rohingya and ensure security and stability in the region.
Malaysia has also summoned the Myanmar ambassador over the issue, and withdrew from two scheduled friendly football matches against Myanmar this month. Hundreds also protested outside the Burmese Embassy last week.Reuse content