Malaysia's ruling party promises huge rally to trump anti-govt protests

Malaysia's ruling party promises huge rally to trump anti-govt protests
PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - A leader of Malaysia's ruling party said on Sunday a million government supporters would stage a rally in October that would trump protests over the past two days demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak over a financial scandal.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi warned organisers they could face legal action, a sign that Najib's government is losing patience with the anti-government protests by tens of thousands that began in central Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.

"They must face the consequences if they dare to break the law," he said, according to a New Straits Times online report.

The Bernama national news agency said 12 people in the southwestern city of Malacca were arrested for wearing the signature yellow T-shirts of the protests, which the government had banned before the rally.

Jamal Yunos, a divisional chief of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party, said one million "red shirt" government supporters would stage a rally in Kuala Lumpur on Oct. 10 as a riposte to the weekend protests.

"This shows the solidarity of Malaysians, that Najib still has the majority support," Yunos told Reuters.

Thousands gathered in festive mood for the second day of protests on Sunday. Their spirits had been lifted the night before when Malaysia's longest-serving leader, Mahathir Mohamad, made a brief and unexpected appearance among them.

Organisers expected the number of protesters to rise, despite a heavy downpour of rain, as the demonstration reached its climax in the evening.

Security remained tight and anti-riot trucks stood ready, but there were no reports of violence.

City authorities rejected an application by pro-democracy group Bersih for a protest permit, which had raised fears of a repeat of a 2012 rally when police used water cannon and teargas to disperse protesters.

MURKY MONEY

The protest has brought into the streets a political crisis triggered by reports of a mysterious transfer worth more than $600 million (S$845 million) into an account under Najib's name.

Najib, who denies wrongdoing, has weathered the storm and analysts say the protest is unlikely to inspire broad public support for him to quit because it lacks a strong leader.

These protests, unlike the 2012 rally, lack the support of a party identified with the Malay majority. Most protesters on Saturday were from the minority ethnic Chinese and Indian communities.

However, Mahathir - a deeply respected 90-year-old who was once Najib's patron and is now his fiercest critic - was long a leader of UMNO, which represents Malays.

UMNO Vice-President Hishammuddin Hussein said Mahathir had"crossed over the line" by attending the anti-government protest, the New Straits Times reported.

Malaysia has been gripped since July by reports that investigators probing allegations of mismanagement and corruption at the debt-laden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad had discovered the transfer into Najib's account.

Its anti-corruption agency has said the funds were a donation from an unidentified Middle East donor.

Najib, who says he did not take any money for personal gain, has sacked his deputy and ministers who had questioned him as he sought to contain the scandal. The attorney-general who had been investigating 1MDB was also replaced.

Authorities also suspended two newspapers and blocked access to a website that had reported extensively on 1MDB.

Najib also retains significant support from the long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition and his party, UMNO. The coalition, in power since 1957, lost the popular vote for the first time in 2013 to an opposition alliance that split earlier this year.

However, he is under pressure over his handling of the economy, which has been hit by a slump in energy prices that threaten oil and gas revenues, and Malaysia's currency plummeted this month to 17-year lows against the dollar.

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