Protests against Malaysian PM persist, govt warns of retaliation

Thousands of Malaysian demonstrators turned central Kuala Lumpur yellow for a second straight day Sunday with a rally demanding Prime Minister Najib Razak`s resignation over a corruption scandal, as the government threatened action against organisers.

Kuala Lumpur: Thousands of Malaysian demonstrators turned central Kuala Lumpur yellow for a second straight day Sunday with a rally demanding Prime Minister Najib Razak`s resignation over a corruption scandal, as the government threatened action against organisers.

The two-day rally, one of Malaysia`s largest in years, has been mostly incident-free even though police declared it illegal, blocked the organisers` website and banned their official bright yellow T-shirt and logo.

Thousands awoke from a night camping out near the capital`s Independence Square and were soon joined by thousands more as a carnival-like mix of speeches, sing-a-longs, prayer and selfie-taking resumed.

The numbers appeared not to match Saturday`s, when organisers -- electoral-reform activist group Bersih (the Malay word for "clean") -- said 200,000 turned out, while police put the number at 29,000.

"I am here to demand transparency. I want to protect the rights of my children. This country is heading for bankruptcy, and we must stop Najib and topple the corrupt regime," said Mustapha Abdul Jalil, 40, a businessman.

Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi, who is also home minister in charge of domestic security, warned organisers face possible charges under assembly, sedition and other laws.

"What is important is that I am empowering the police to take action," he was quoted as saying by Malaysian media. No further details were given.

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

His cabinet ministers have called the transfers "political donations" from unidentified Middle Eastern sources. But the accounts have been closed and the fate of the money is undisclosed.Najib denies all wrongdoing, alleging a "political conspiracy" to topple him.

With smaller anti-Najib rallies held in several other locations around the country, state news agency Bernama reported 12 people were arrested in the city of Malacca for wearing Bersih shirts. 

All were later released, it said. It was not clear what charges they would face.

Protesters in Kuala Lumpur were energised by appearances on both days by 90-year-old former premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Still a ruling-party heavyweight, Mahathir`s attendance surprised some because he took a tough line against dissent during his uncompromising 1981-2003 rule.

But he has led calls for Najib`s resignation, accusing him of corruption and misgovernance. He says the claim that Najib`s money came from foreign political donors was "absurd". 

Organisers said his appearance showed the rally was not supported solely by the opposition.

Besides the financial scandal, demonstrators demand Najib be ousted over alleged economic mismanagement such as an unpopular new consumption tax. They also demand reform of an electoral system said to favour the coalition in power since independence in 1957.

The protest poses little actual threat to Najib.

The reform movement lacks much traction in rural areas where his government enjoys solid support, Malaysia`s opposition is currently fractured, and Najib firmly controls key institutions such as the police, judiciary and parliament.Najib recently purged critics in his cabinet and sacked or reassigned officials and parliamentarians who were probing the scandals. The future of those investigations is uncertain.

"Those who wear this yellow attire, who are they? They want to discredit our good name (and) scribble black coal on Malaysia`s face to the outside world," official media quoted Najib as saying Saturday.

Malaysia has been controlled by essentially the same coalition since independence, dominated throughout by the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

Its longevity is due to its power base: the Muslim ethnic Malays who make up around 60 percent of the multi-racial, multi-faith country`s population.

But the regime has rapidly lost voters in recent years, particularly minority Chinese, over recurring corruption scandals, tough treatment of its critics and policies favouring Malays.

Najib, the British-educated son of Malaysia`s second prime minister, sought to slow this loss of support by portraying himself as a new breed of UMNO leader after taking office in 2009.

He vowed to end corruption and authoritarian tactics, and to reform the pro-Malay policies.

But following a further election setback in 2013, he has abandoned those initiatives to fall back on UMNO`s conservative Malay core.

Before the funding scandal broke, Najib had already faced months of allegations that hundreds of millions of dollars in state money had disappeared from deals involving a heavily indebted government-owned investment company he launched in 2009.

Previous Bersih-organised rallies have ended in clashes with police.

This time, hundreds of police have barred protesters from Independence Square but both sides have so far exercised restraint.

Bersih said a number of people suffered vomiting and stomach pains after consuming contaminated boxes of juice handed out to demonstrators, calling it an "act of sabotage" by rally opponents.