Rally demanding Malaysian PM’s ouster enters second day

Rally demanding Malaysian PM’s ouster enters second day
Electoral reform group that organized weekend rally hopes Sunday attendance will match alleged peak of 200,000 people

Tens of thousands of protesters wearing yellow gathered in Malaysia’s capital Sunday as crowds began pouring in for the second day of a rally demanding institutional reforms and the ouster of Prime MinisterNajib Razak.

An Anadolu Agency reporter at the scene said that more than 40,000 protesters gathered around Independence Square, where Malaysia will celebrate its 58th Independence Day on Monday, carrying banners accusing Razak of corruption and cronyism.

According to Bersih (“clean” in Malay), the electoral reform group that organized the weekend rally, some 200,000 people were estimated to have joined the protest at its peak at around 4 p.m. (0800GMT) Saturday.

Police, however, put the number at 29,000.

Wong Sai Long, a Bersih secretariat official, told Anadolu Agency on Sunday that they again expected the rally to be joined by tens of thousands of participants.

“We are anticipating a crowd of 100,000 by 2 p.m. or more, to surpass the peak yesterday,” he said.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a vocal critic of Razak, and his wife had joined the rally at Independence Square on Saturday night in a move seen as a blow to the current premier and his United Malays National Organization party.

Toward nightfall Saturday, crowds wearing yellow T-shirts — which the government banned Friday along with Bersih’s logo, after blocking access to the group’s website — had slowly dispersed as people headed to their homes and hotels.

As midnight approached, around 15,000 protesters remained at Independence Square and volunteers and Bersih officials were seen tearing boxes and pieces of cardboard to create temporary sleeping pads for the participants.

A sea of yellow made up of protesters chanting “bersih” gathered Sunday at the historic Jamek Mosque, where two trucks have been set up as makeshift stages for leaders to give speeches.

At the scenic historic square of Medan Pasar (literally meaning “Old Market”) a few miles away, the rally had a festive air as people dressed as clowns and others on stilts voiced the protesters’ demands. 

Members of a non-governmental organization also collected signatures for a protest against Razak and the ruling Barisan Nasional government.

Meanwhile, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, has warned Bersih leaders of possible actions against them as police monitor them and their speeches during the rallies across the country.

According to The Star Online, Hamidi — who also serves as deputy prime minister — said that actions would be taken against the organizers of the “illegal gathering”.

“The organizers must be daring to face the consequence of his or her actions. Then don’t accuse the police of cruelty for the action,” he stressed. “This is not a warning and not just a promise, action must be taken.”

At least 12 people have been arrested in southwestern Melaka state for wearing yellow “Bersih 4” T-shirts.

Chuah Ghee Lye, Melaka police chief, told state news agency Bernama on Sunday that all those arrested “were brought to the nearest police stations and released on police bail after their statements were taken.”

They included nine people who had been attending a rally in Bandar Hilir late Saturday, and three others taken into custody in police roadblocks. 

Many Malaysians from all walks of life are demanding the resignation of Razak over allegations of graft and financial mismanagement at debt-ridden state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), and a multi-million-dollar donation made into his personal account.

In July, the Wall Street Journal reported that investigators probing the finance ministry-owned fund had discovered that nearly 2.6 billion Ringgit was deposited into Razak private bank account.

Although Malaysia’s anti-graft agency has verified that the funds were a donation from the Middle East, on Aug. 3 it said it would ask Razak to explain why the money was placed into his private account.

1MDB — where Razak serves as advisory board chair — has run up 42 billion Ringgit ($11 billion) in debt in just six years of business.

Kuala Lumpur’s police chief, Comm. Md Tajuddin Md Isa, has warned that any violence during the march would “be dealt with sternly”.