Malaysian police summon anti-PM protest organisers

AFP , Tuesday 1 Sep 2015

The organisers of a massive weekend demonstration demanding the Malaysian prime minister's removal over corruption allegations said Tuesday they had been summoned by police, after the government earlier threatened they could face charges.

Several protest leaders were ordered to report to police and give statements on Wednesday, said Maria Chin Abdullah, chair of Bersih, the coalition of Malaysian NGOs and activist groups that staged the huge rally.

"It's an absolute waste of time. They want to intimidate us but they won't succeed," she told AFP.

Prime Minister Najib Razak has been under fire since the Wall Street Journal last month published Malaysian documents showing nearly $700 million had been deposited into his personal bank accounts beginning in 2013.

Najib initially angrily rejected the report, but his cabinet ministers have since admitted the transfers, calling them "political donations" from unidentified Middle Eastern sources, but giving no details.

Najib denies any wrongdoing.

Official investigations into the scandal appear to have been stalled after Najib sacked his attorney general and reassigned other officials who were looking into the affair.

Tens of thousands of Malaysians swarmed central Kuala Lumpur and other cities over the weekend for the two-day rally to call for Najib's ouster and for broader government reforms, despite police declaring the protest illegal.

Bersih, which means "clean" in Malay and was formed originally to press for electoral reform, said more than 200,000 people were on the streets in central Kuala Lumpur at the peak on Saturday.

Police put the number at 29,000.

Najib denounced the demonstrators on Sunday night as "shallow-minded" and refused to step down.

Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi, who is also home minister in charge of domestic security, warned over the weekend that organisers may face charges under sedition, assembly, or other laws.

Malaysia's long-ruling government takes a tough line against dissent, frequently levying various charges at its political opponents.

In a statement Monday, Human Rights Watch criticised Zahid's threat.

"Malaysia should recognise that its people have the right to voice their political views, even if the government disagrees with what they have to say -- and that violation of that right will have serious consequences for Malaysia's international reputation," it said.

A government minister also was quoted by Malaysian media Tuesday saying Bersih could be slapped with a 65,000-ringgit ($16,000) bill for post-demonstration clean-up.

Previous Bersih rallies have ended in clashes with police, but the weekend protests were largely incident-free.

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