KUALA LUMPUR Malaysian police broke up a protest by Islamists on Friday against U.S. rapper Pitbull's concert and the government award of a sports betting license, underscoring a deepening tide of Islam in the country.
About 300 Malay Muslims representing several groups led by the opposition Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) gathered in the compound of a mosque in the capital's Malay enclave after Friday prayers to denounce gambling and pop concerts.
The government recently approved a sports betting license to a company set to be majority controlled by property-to-gaming group Berjaya Corp Bhd.
Pitbull is scheduled to perform at a dance music festival in the country on Saturday.
The concert and gambling license are unrelated, but a PAS official said the protest was part of an ongoing awareness campaign against "immorality" in the country.
"We must act before gambling floods our country," PAS official Kamaruzaman Mohamad told the crowd. "Gambling is a cancer in our society."
Malaysia forbids its majority Muslims from gambling but allows licensed numbers forecast operations and a casino operated by Genting Group.
Condemning the U.S. rapper whose recent hits include "I Know You Want Me," Kamaruzaman said Pitbull was not welcome.
"It's bad enough that he is named after a dog, but if you watch his videoclip on Youtube, his performance and lyrics are against Malaysian cultural norms," said Kamaruzaman.
Demonstrators carried placards with the words "Malaysia is not a gambling nation", and chanted, "God is Greatest". Police moved in to disperse the crowd but made no arrests.
The protests highlight the occasional clash between modern and conservative Islam in this mainly Muslim but multi-ethnic Southeast Asian country.
PAS is part of a group led by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim which made record gains in the 2008 national elections.
It competes with Prime Minster Najib Razak's United Malays National Organization (UMNO) for the critical Malay vote. Malays form 55 percent of the country's 28 million population.
Both parties often tout their Islamic credentials and the deepening conservatism saw ethno-religious tensions rise due to a row over the use of the word "Allah" by Christians to describe God.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)