Bersih protesters take to streets despite arrests

Dr Mahathir waves the Bersih flag (above) as he and former DPM Muhyiddin (behind him) greet the crowd at the Bersih 5 rally in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. Bersih supporters (right) turned the area around Petronas Twin Towers into a sea of yel
Dr Mahathir waves the Bersih flag as he and former DPM Muhyiddin (behind him) greet the crowd at the Bersih 5 rally in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. Bersih supporters (above) turned the area around Petronas Twin Towers into a sea of yellow yesterday as they called for PM Najib to step down.ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG
Dr Mahathir waves the Bersih flag (above) as he and former DPM Muhyiddin (behind him) greet the crowd at the Bersih 5 rally in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. Bersih supporters turned the area around Petronas Twin Towers into a sea of yellow yest
Dr Mahathir waves the Bersih flag (above) as he and former DPM Muhyiddin (behind him) greet the crowd at the Bersih 5 rally in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. Bersih supporters turned the area around Petronas Twin Towers into a sea of yellow yesterday as they called for PM Najib to step down.ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG

Ex-PM Mahathir praises demonstrators for not being cowed

Thousands of Malaysians turned major streets of Kuala Lumpur into seas of yellow yesterday as Bersih's rally demanding that Prime Minister Najib Razak step down over graft allegations went ahead despite a clampdown that saw the electoral reforms movement's leader and several others being arrested a day earlier.

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, a staunch opponent of street protests during his 22-year rule which ended in 2003, took to the stage to congratulate Bersih supporters for not bowing to government intimidation.

"A man like (Najib) shouldn't be PM of Malaysia. It's the opposition who wants reforms and a democratic government that won't misuse the law," Tun Dr Mahathir told the crowd that gathered at the foot of Petronas Twin Towers, the crown jewel of his reign which today are a symbol of modern Malaysia.

Datuk Seri Najib ignored the gathering, writing on his Facebook page yesterday that he had just arrived in Peru for the Apec meeting and will be discussing global economic growth and trade.

He had written on Friday that the Bersih protest was a "fake struggle" instigated by the opposition parties which hid behind the facade of a non-partisan organisation.

The police yesterday arrested half a dozen more activists, adding to the 14 Bersih staffers, opposition figures and rival Red Shirts leaders held on the eve of the rally which was outlawed by the government.

On the streets of KL, the police maintained a heavy presence but did not intervene as protesters gathered in the morning at several areas around the targeted Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) in the city centre.

Compared to the Bersih 4 rally last year, which was dominated by Chinese Malaysians, the crowd this year was more multiracial.

 

According to Kuala Lumpur police, 15,500 turned up for Bersih 5 - though local media reports put the figure at more than double that - and the Red Shirts mustered 2,500 supporters.

The counter-rally by the pro-government Red Shirts, meanwhile, fizzled out as their leader Jamal Yunos, an Umno division chief, had also been detained in the police swoop before the event. Some of his lieutenants rallied their members at Umno headquarters and a public field, but their gathering lasted only a few hours.

Bersih supporters were barred from Dataran Merdeka, so they marched instead to Petronas Twin Towers while singing patriotic songs, displaying anti-Najib posters and flags, and blowing into vuvuzelas which were sold by enterprising roadside vendors.

Top Bersih and opposition figures addressed the crowd, stressing the need to continue fighting PM Najib's rule until a national election due in August 2018 but expected as soon as next year.

"We will continue and never back down. We must fight for the rights of the people," said parliamentary opposition leader Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, whose husband Anwar Ibrahim is in jail on a controversial sodomy charge.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who was sacked as deputy premier after criticising Mr Najib's handling of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal, said: "It's time to show we are united... The time is up for Najib and all his cronies."

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Thousands march in Bersih rally in KL. http://str.sg/4MP5

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 20, 2016, with the headline 'Bersih protesters take to streets despite arrests'. Print Edition | Subscribe