Police interference failed to dampen the spirit of the "Green Solidarity 109" rally as some 2,000 participants thronged the beach at Taman Gelora, Kuantan, in support of communities threatened by the destruction of their environmental.
The rally was cut short by half an hour after police moved in to prevent its speakers from making their speeches.
Organised by a coalition of environmental NGOs, the event had initially been granted a permit but it was withdrawn last night in favour of a national service event.
Local council officers moved in on the same night to dismantle all tents set up by rally organisers on the premise that the structures were "illegal".
"In a democratic country, the people have the right to stand together to express our views. We are so disappointed that they withdrew our permit. This is not right," said Sabah Environment Protection Association (SEPA) president Wong Tack.
Despite the 'illegal' status, the rally was allowed to proceed by the beach until 8.30am under the watchful eyes of some 50 police officers, after which the latter moved in to stop the speakers as additional Light Strike Force units manned the beach.
The police appeared to back down after supporters quickly formed a human shield to stop their advance, but later pushed their way through after a phone call.
The angry crowd began to boo the police followed by shouts of "Hidup rakyat!" but Kuantan OCPD Mohd Jasmani Yusof insisted that the rally disperse.
"Listen to me Fuziah, listen to me," he told Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh, who then concurred as the situation became heated.
Earlier participants who found their intended spot occupied decided to move to the beach, but organisers were baffled as camping tents had oddly sprouted there overnight. A check inside the tents found all of them to be empty.
Earth Charter endorsed
Undaunted, the crowd lined the beach as early as 6am in a symbolic welcoming of the sunrise. The first streak of light on the horizon was welcomed with the beating of traditional drums of various ethnic communities.
Among prominent figure present were electoral reform group Bersih 2.0 chief Ambiga Sreenevasan (right) and its steering committee member Maria Chin Abdullah, who lent their strength to today's gathering, exactly three months after its own landmark rally on July 9.
Also in sight were Teratai state assemblyperson Jenice Lee, Tras state assemblyperson Chong Siew Onn and even Australia’s Green Party MP Robin Chapple.
However a group of pro-rally MCA supporters led by Teruntum state assemblyperson Chang Hong Seong piqued the interest of some among the crowd when they put up a banner indicating that the Indera Mahkota MCA Youth division was there to show its support.
Not to be outdone, a group of DAP supporters marched in front of them with their own banner, to the amusement of the photographers who were clicking away at the MCA supporters.
Environmental activists and supporters gathered under the banner of the Earth Charter to put the national spotlight on their concerns.
The Earth Charter is an international declaration by global civil societies of values and principles directed at sustainable development and responsibility towards the environment.
Participants were led to spirited chants of "Hidup rakyat! Hancur Lynas! Balik Lynas!" (long live the people, down with Lynas, go back Lynas), as observers from the Bar Council and Malaysian Human Rights Comission (Suhakam) watched on.
The crowd also performed "Suara Rakyat" as the song "Keranamu Malaysia" was blasted on a loop at the national service event a stone's throw away.
Commotion from nearby event
They roared when Fuziah arrived but cheers quickly turned to yells when a group of youngsters from the nearby event came over and started pushing event supporters.
Police, however, moved quicky to separate both groups.
A glance at the various trademark T-shirts donned by participants revealed a visibly diverse crowd representing several environmental controversies that have made headlines in recent years but have yet seen resolution.
Among the more notable ones was a black T-shirt with a red cross over a radioactive symbol, a trademark of the Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas (SMSL) movement, the local group that has vociferously opposed the construction of the Lynas rare earth processing plant due to radiation fears, no more than 30km north from where they stood.
Other anti-Lynas groups included the Stop Lynas Coalition and the Badan Bertindak anti Rare Earth Refinery (Badar).
Also not to be outdone were the Bukit Koman activists from Raub, donning their trademark green t-shirts. The group has been on a war path against gold mining in their community, with its activists arguing that the cyanide used for the mining is poisoning them.
Other notable groups were activists opposing the construction of high tension cables across their village from Rawang, and Orang Asli groups - proudly wearing their traditional headgear - protesting the destruction of their lands by logging and other activities.
The participants were armed with various banners expressing their respective concerns, such as: "No toxic cyanide", Lynas get out!" "Life above profit!" and "We protest against TNB high tension cables!"
A group also held up super-sized comic figures of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak carrying a pair of skulls encased in jars, and his wife, Rosmah Mansor gowned with necklace, chains and earrings made out of a string radioactive badges.
Later the crowd sat by the beach to recite the Earth Charter pledge followed by the singing of the national anthem and speeches from representatives from several environmentalist groups.
The massive crowd took about 30 minutes to disperse in an orderly manner under the hawk eyes of the police.