Thou­sands rally for Malaysian PM to leave of­fice

‘Save democ­racy’ chants heard

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: More than 10,000 yel­low-shirt pro­test­ers ral­lied yes­ter­day in Kuala Lumpur seek­ing Malaysian Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak’s res­ig­na­tion over a fi­nan­cial scan­dal, un­de­terred by a po­lice ban and the ar­rest of 20 peo­ple, mostly ac­tivists.

Pro­test­ers marched in down­town Kuala Lumpur and later moved to the Petronas Twin Tow­ers af­ter fail­ing to en­ter In­de­pen­dent Square, the city’s main protest venue, which was locked down by po­lice with wa­ter-can­non trucks on standby.

Some chanted “Save Democ­racy” and “Ber­sih, Ber­sih” - the name of the elec­toral re­form group that or­ga­nized the rally. The name means “clean” in the Malay lan­guage. For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Ma­hathir Mo­hamad, who has been spear­head­ing calls for Na­jib’s res­ig­na­tion, joined the rally, adding mo­men­tum to the demon­stra­tion. “Every­body feels concerned about the kind of gov­ern­ment we have now,” said Ma­hathir, wear­ing a yel­low Ber­sih shirt. “We no longer live un­der democ­racy, but a klep­toc­racy - a na­tion ruled by thieves.”

The rally ended peace­fully af­ter a down­pour. Na­jib, who is at­tend­ing an Asia-Pa­cific sum­mit in Lima, Peru, has kept an iron grip since cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions emerged two years ago in­volv­ing the in­debted 1MDB state fund that he founded. 1MDB is at the cen­ter of in­ves­ti­ga­tions in the US and sev­eral other coun­tries.

The prime min­is­ter, who has de­nied any wrong­do­ing, has called Ber­sih “de­ceit­ful” and said the group has be­come a tool for op­po­si­tion par­ties to un­seat a demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment. “We want to see Malaysia more de­vel­oped and not robbed of bil­lions of ring­git,” singer Wan Aishah Wan Arif­fin, an op­po­si­tion sup­porter, said at the rally.

Fifth protest

The protest was the fifth or­ga­nized by Ber­sih, which also held sim­i­lar demon­stra­tions Satur­day in two Malaysian cities on Bor­neo is­land. Po­lice es­ti­mated the Ber­sih crowd at 15,500. The turnout was less than the 50,000 who at­tended the last Ber­sih rally, in Au­gust 2015, which also de­manded that Na­jib quit. On­line news por­tal Malaysi­akini put the crowd Satur­day at more than 40,000.

Po­lice on Fri­day raided the Ber­sih of­fice and de­tained the group’s chair­woman, Maria Chin, for in­ves­ti­ga­tion into “ac­tiv­i­ties detri­men­tal to par­lia­men­tary democ­racy.” An­other 19 peo­ple, mostly politi­cians and ac­tivists, were also de­tained on Fri­day and Satur­day to prevent ri­ot­ing, po­lice said.

Those de­tained in­cluded rul­ing party politi­cian Ja­mal Mo­hamad Yunos, whose sup­port­ers, num­ber­ing about 2,500, trooped to down­town to counter the Ber­sih rally. Po­lice banned the ral­lies by Ber­sih’s yel­low-shirt sup­port­ers and Ja­mal’s red-shirt group.

Lawyer Eric Paulsen tweeted that Chin was for­mally de­tained Satur­day un­der a se­cu­rity law meant to be used against ter­ror­ists and can be held for a fur­ther 28 days. The other ac­tivists were re­manded for sev­eral days in po­lice cus­tody.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional slammed the crack­down and called for the im­me­di­ate re­lease of the Ber­sih ac­tivists, de­scrib­ing them as pris­on­ers of con­science. “These ar­rests are the lat­est in a series of crude and heavy-handed at­tempts to in­tim­i­date Malaysian civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists and other hu­man rights de­fend­ers,” Amnesty said in a state­ment.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tions into 1MDB fund are cen­tered on al­le­ga­tions of a global em­bez­zle­ment and money-laun­der­ing scheme. Na­jib started the fund shortly af­ter tak­ing of­fice in 2009 to pro­mote eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment projects, but the fund ac­cu­mu­lated bil­lions in debt over the years.

The US Jus­tice Depart­ment said that at least $3.5 bil­lion had been stolen from 1MDB by peo­ple close to Na­jib and ini­ti­ated ac­tion in July to seize $1.3 bil­lion it said was taken from the fund to buy as­sets in the US

The US gov­ern­ment com­plaints also said that more than $700 mil­lion had landed in the ac­counts of “Malaysian Of­fi­cial 1.” They did not name the of­fi­cial, but ap­pear to be re­fer­ring to Na­jib. Sup­port for Na­jib’s Na­tional Front has eroded in the last two gen­eral elec­tions. It won in 2013, but lost the pop­u­lar vote for the first time to an op­po­si­tion al­liance. —AP

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Pro­test­ers oc­cupy a street dur­ing a rally in the down­town area yes­ter­day. —AP

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