Kuala Lumpur: Tens of thousands of Malaysians marched in a massive anti-government rally here on Saturday demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak following weeks of simmering anger over corruption allegations against the premier.
Online reports said there were at least 40,000 protesters in the rally in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
Unfazed by hundreds of police which had declared the rally as unlawful, thousands carrying placards joined the protest organised by Bersih, a coalition of NGOs which has also called for electoral reforms and transparency.
Public disenchantment has been rapidly on the rise after leaked documents published by the Wall Street Journal showed that Najib received some USD 700 million in his private bank accounts from Malaysia’s indebted state fund 1MDB. He later said the money was a donation from the Middle East.
Protesters in yellow Bersih T-shirts and headbands gathered at several points with the intent to march towards the Merdeka (independence) square where celebrations to mark Malaysia’s 58th National Day will be held on Monday. The protesters have agreed not to enter the square.
Najib meanwhile said those involved in the anti- establishment demonstration held close to the independence day celebration were devoid of love for the country. He is not in Kuala Lumpur and had travelled to Pahang state.
“We are about to celebrate Merdeka Day (on August 31). Are they too shallow to understand that the venue (for their rally) carries historical significance (for the birth of Malaysia)?,” he said.
An activist Wong Chin Huat said those gathered for the Bersih rally had no intention to bring down the government.
“We are not here to bring down the government. We want to correct the wrongs. That’s all. Things are going awry and we are voicing our thoughts,” said Wong.
Former premier Mahathir Mohamad, a strong opponent of Najib told a large crowd outside Kuala Lumpur that?some leaders had forgotten their duty to the people who voted for them as their representative. “Come back to the right path. You are lost,” he said.
Malaysia is a mainly Malay Muslim nation with 25 per cent ethnic Chinese and eight per cent ethnic Indian minorities.
As the mystery over the USD 700 million deposit into Najib’s account grabbed headlines, Malaysia’s anti-graft agency said the amount paid into the premier’s account was a donation from the Middle East before a 2013 election, but no names have been revealed of the donor.
Najib, 62, has denied taking any money for personal gain. However, he dismissed his deputy who had questioned him about the funds?and the attorney-general who was probing the state fund 1MDB.
Najib heads the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, which has been in power since 1957. The coalition lost the popular vote for the first time in the 2013 polls to an opposition alliance that split this year.