KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 31 — Hundreds of protestors have begun gathering in front of the Sogo shopping mall facing Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman here, ahead of a planned anti-price hike rally tonight.
According to several news reports, the police are also streaming in to the Dataran Merdeka vicinity, in anticipation of the larger than usual turnout for the usual New Year's Eve countdown an the protest.
On its Twitter feed, national news agency Bernama reported that four buses, two vans and seven Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) lorries are now at the historic venue.
Despite the huge crowd, the atmosphere remains carnival-like with traders setting up stalls alongside the mall, while performers on a makeshift busker's stage keeps participants entertained.
The crowd consist mostly of male youths in their early 20s, all dressed in a multitude of colours, despite the organisers' request for wearing black.
A significant number brought with them masks of English revolutionary Guy Fawkes, which has now a global symbol of public revolt against authorities.
There are also stalls selling t-shirts to denounce the number of price and rate hikes, which will hit Malaysians come 2014.
The crowd is expected to march towards Dataran Merdeka starting 9pm, led by the group calling itself Gerakan Turun Kos Sara Hidup.
Just a couple of kilometres away, peace reigned earlier this afternoon at the historic square in the midst of Kuala Lumpur.
There was also minimal police presence near Dataran Merdeka at the time, opposite the Kuala Lumpur City Hall where protestors were to gather from 10pm tonight.
Traffic was also clear along Jalan Parlimen, Jalan Tun Perak and Jalan Raja Laut near the square.
City police had promised earlier that there will be no road blocks and it will not be tightening security heading into the square despite calls for two separate planned protests there.
Most of the crowd near the square as at this afternoon were mostly tourists and early-goers hoping to catch some artists during their rehearsals for tonight's concert there.
This comes as Tourism and Cultural Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz called organisers to change the date of the gathering so that it would not coincide with the new year’s eve celebration.
The mass protest was planned amid the various increases in the prices of goods and services, some of which have already taken place a few months ago, like the cutting of fuel and sugar subsidies, while other hikes are scheduled for next year, including electricity tariffs, assessment rates for KL properties, public transport charges and toll rates for major highways.
But over the past week, the police have been on high alert after claims circulated online of a demonstration to take down the government, and also of an alleged plot to detonate bombs during the New Year's Eve countdown at Dataran Merdeka. The authorities have since linked the claims to the planned protest.
On Saturday, police listed four non-governmental organisations (NGO) as the key groups allegedly planning to “cause trouble” at the annual do.
They are Gerakan Turun Kos Sara Hidup (Turun), Solidarity Mahasiswa Malaysia (SMM), PKR-backed group Jingga 13 and youth group Solidariti Anak Muda Malaysia (SAMM).
On Friday, however, Mohamed Bukhairy Sofian, chairman of student movement SMM, reportedly said that its planned gathering at Dataran Merdeka on New Year’s Eve is to protest against the rising cost of living, and not to overthrow the Barisan Nasional (BN) government.
Anti-price hike movement Gerakan Turun Kos Sara Hidup (Turun) chairman Azan Safar had also clarified last week that the price hike protest is not linked to another planned gathering, which allegedly aims to oust the government.
On Christmas Eve, police arrested the leader of an anti-price hike movement over a planned rally at Dataran Merdeka on December 31 that allegedly aimed to overthrow the government.
On Thursday, the owner of a Facebook page was also picked up by the police for allegedly inciting the public to participate in demonstrations on December 31, to topple the government.