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The demographics between the rich and poor can also be quite apparent: for example, a high rise luxury condominium building built right across the street from old, rundown shop lots or flats.

Before the rise of the European colonial powers, the Malay peninsula and the Malay archipelago were home to empires such as the Srivijaya (whose capital was near modern Palembang, Sumatra, but which included the entire Malay Peninsula and lands further north at its greatest extent), the Majapahit (centred in Java, now part of Indonesia, but believed by most scholars to have included the entire Malay Peninsula and most of coastal Borneo among its vassal states) and the Malacca Sultanate.

On 9 August 1965 Singapore was officially expelled from the federation after several bloody racial riots as Singapore's majority Chinese population and the People's Action Party, led by Lee Kuan Yew (later the long-ruling Prime Minister of Singapore), were seen as a threat to Malay dominance.

There were further racial riots in 1969, which led to the forced resignation of Tunku Abdul Rahman; his replacement by Tun Abdul Razak; changes in the Malaysian Constitution that sought to prevent the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) from ever being defeated in a future national election; and the start of the New Economic Policy, which sought to aggressively promote the economic interests of the generally poorer Malay community (and also the non-Malay indigenous peoples of East Malaysia) over those of the generally less poor Chinese community (with the poorest major ethnic group, the Indians, and also to a very large extent the Orang Asli [aboriginal people] in the Peninsula mostly ignored in the process).

During the 16th century the Portuguese established the first European colony in Southeast Asia by defeating the Malacca Sultanate.

Northern Borneo consisted of the British colony of North Borneo, the Kingdom of Sarawak, which was ruled by a British family known as the "White Rajas", and the British protectorate of Brunei.

With this treaty, the Dutch agreed to cede Malacca to the British and in return, the British ceded all their colonies on Sumatra to the Dutch.

The line of division roughly corresponds to what is today the border between Malaysia and Indonesia.

Among the most notorious atrocities committed by the Japanese were the Sandakan Death Marches, with only 6 out of 2,345 prisoners surviving the war.

After World War II, the Federated Malay States, Unfederated Malay States and the Straits Settlements of Malacca and Penang were federated to form a single British colony known as the Malayan Union, with Singapore splitting off to form a separate colony.

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