Malaysian protesters rev up second day of rallies against PM

AFP , Sunday 30 Aug 2015

Activists from the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) gather on a main road in downtown Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, during a rally Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015. (AP Photo)

Crowds of yellow-clad Malaysians demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak converged on central Kuala Lumpur again on Sunday, a day after tens of thousands paralysed the capital in a boisterous yet peaceful demonstration.

The two-day rally, one of Malaysia's largest in years, has been largely incident-free despite police declaring it illegal, blocking the organisers' website and banning their official yellow t-shirt and logo.

Thousands of bleary-eyed protesters who slept on streets near the city's Independence Square woke Sunday to mass exercises and a resumption of the previous day's carnival-like mix of speeches, sing-a-longs, prayer and the ubiquitous snapping of selfies.

Initial crowds appeared smaller than Saturday, when police said 29,000 had gathered, while the rally's organisers -- electoral-reform pressure group Bersih -- said 200,000 had turned out.

The rally got a shot in the arm late Saturday when 90-year-old former premier Mahathir Mohamad made a brief appearance.

Mahathir, who did not address the crowd, has led calls for Najib's ouster, accusing him of corruption and misgovernance.

Still a ruling-party heavyweight, Mahathir's attendance was a surprise as he was known through his 1981-2003 rule for squashing such protests.

"We are hoping to have as many people as yesterday to send the message to this government: they have been lying and stealing and bullying for far too long and the public won't take it anymore," said Simon Tam, a lawyer.

Najib has been fighting for his political survival since The Wall Street Journal last month published Malaysian documents showing nearly $700 million had been mysteriously deposited in his personal bank accounts since 2013.

His cabinet ministers call the transfers "political donations" from unidentified Middle Eastern sources, refusing to give details. The accounts have been closed and the fate of the money has not been explained.

The rally is not viewed as a major threat to Najib. Its organisers lack a strong central leader, the Malaysian opposition is fractured over policy differences, and Najib has control over key institutions such as the police, judiciary and parliament.

Najib denies all wrongdoing, alleging a "political conspiracy" to topple him.

"Those who wear this yellow attire, who are they? They want to discredit our good name, scribble black coal on Malaysia's face to the outside world," he was quoted saying Saturday by official media.

Demonstrators called for his resignation over the scandal and accusations of economic mismanagement, while also railing against a new consumption tax and Malaysia's electoral system, which critics say is biased in the 58-year-old regime's favour.

In late July, he purged critics within his cabinet in a circle-the-waggons reshuffle, and sacked or reassigned officials and parliamentarians who were probing the scandals, leaving the future of investigations uncertain.

Najib had already faced months of allegations that huge sums disappeared from deals involving a heavily indebted state investment company that he launched in 2009.

Mahathir has called the claim that the nearly $700 million came from foreign political donors "absurd".

Previous Bersih rallies have ended in clashes with police, most recently in 2012, but both the security forces and protesters have exercised restraint.

Bersih had originally planned to occupy Independence Square, which has been cordoned by hundreds of police behind barricades.

Smaller gatherings also were reported in the cities of Kuching and Kota Kinabalu on Borneo island.

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