Sunday 22 July 2018

Kuala Lumpur protest against Malaysian prime minister

Supporters of pro-democracy group Bersih gather before the start of a rally in Kuala Lumpur (AP)
Supporters of pro-democracy group Bersih gather before the start of a rally in Kuala Lumpur (AP)

Thousands of Malaysians wearing yellow t-shirts and blowing horns have gathered in Kuala Lumpur for a major rally to demand the resignation of embattled prime minister Najib Razak.

The crowds were undeterred by a heavy police presence after authorities declared the rally illegal, blocked the organiser's website and banned yellow attire and the logo of Bersih, the coalition for clean and fair election that is behind the protest.

Mr Razak has been fighting for political survival after leaked documents in July showed he received some 700 million US dollars (£454 million) in his private accounts from entities linked to indebted state fund 1MDB.

He later said the money was a donation from the Middle East, fired his critical deputy and four other Cabinet members as well as the attorney general investigating him.

Protesters in yellow Bersih T-shirts and headbands converged at five different locations in preparation to march to areas surrounding Independence Square, where celebrations to mark Malaysia's 58th National Day will be held on Monday.

Scores of riot police have sealed off roads leading to the square, which authorities have said is off-limits to protesters.

Some activists were carrying canvas bags with the words "My prime minister embarrasses me". Some held placards saying "We will not be silenced" while others chanted "Bersih" and waved Malaysian flags.

1MDB, set up by Mr Razak in 2009 to develop new industries, has accumulated 11.1 billion US dollars (£7.2 billion) of debt after its energy ventures abroad faltered. Critics have voiced concern about 1MDB's massive debt and lack of transparency.

Concerns over the political scandal partly contributed to the Malaysian currency plunging to a 17-year low, beyond four ringgit to the dollar, earlier this month.

Apart from the prime minister's resignation, the rally is also demanding institutional reforms that will make the government more transparent and accountable.

This is the fourth rally organised by Bersih and the third one since Mr Razak took power in 2009.

Tens of thousands of people turned up for the last two rallies in 2011 and 2012, which were dispersed by authorities using tear gas and water cannon.

Bersih activists said rallies were also held simultaneously in Australia and New Zealand, as well as in Kuching in Malaysia's Sarawak state and Kota Kinabalu in Sabah state.

Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed has warned police will take action if the rally turns violent or protesters break the law.

Press Association

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