Thousands of yellow-clad Malaysian protestors rallied Saturday in downtown Kuala Lumpur, where they called for upholding parliamentary democracy and criticized the rule of a prime minister clouded by corruption allegations.
The Bersih 5 rally took place although the leader of the grassroots movement as well as several other organizers and supporters were arrested ahead of the demonstration, and some scuffles and confrontations with activists from a pro-government group occurred during the day.
At least 13 people were taken into custody in pre-rally arrests on Friday and early Saturday, including the leader of the so-called Red Shirts, an activist group that supports the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the party of Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Eight more people were reported arrested on Saturday, including three opposition politicians who were being investigated under laws that prohibit the incitement of riots.
As Bersih protestors marched toward the venue for the rally, police barricades blocked them from accessing Independence Square, a symbolic spot in the Malaysian capital where they had intended to rally. Instead, they changed course and staged their demonstration in front of an iconic Kuala Lumpur landmark, the twin skyscrapers of the Petronas Towers.
The number of Bersih protestors who turned out ranged from 10,000 to 40,000, according to news reports, but Kuala Lumpur police put their number at 15,500.
“We will stop here. The crowd is so big and we cannot afford to allow people to get hurt. This is already a feat,” former Bersih chairperson Ambiga Sreenivasan told a crowd of protestors at one of the barricades along the approaches to the square. All roads leading there were cordoned off and guarded by thousands of police and anti-riot personnel.
At the plaza outside the towers, thousands in the crowd sat and chanted slogans, which called for Najib to resign over a corruption scandal tied to state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Najib has denied allegations of wrongdoing over nearly U.S. $700 million in 1MDB-linked money deposited into his bank accounts in 2013. On Friday, the prime minister flew abroad to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Peru.
At the rally held under monsoonal clouds, people chanted “Hidup Rakyat!” (“long live the people”), as opposition leaders and other speakers took turns at the microphone.
“This is what is called undermining democracy. It is not Bersih who is stopping democracy, but the government,” former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Najib’s fiercest critic, told the crowd, referring to the barricades near Independence Square.
“This is not against democratic principles. This is Malaysia, and it belongs to all of us,” former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, whom Najib sacked last year for criticizing him in public about 1MDB, said when it came to him to speak.
The Bersih rally ended at 5:30 p.m
Full story: BenarNews
Muzliza Mustafa and Hadi Azmi
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