Najib slams Bersih rally for clashing with Merdeka Day

Security personnel at an entrance to Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur. The police have barred Bersih participants from entering the square as the organisers did not obtain approval to hold the rally there.
Security personnel at an entrance to Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur. The police have barred Bersih participants from entering the square as the organisers did not obtain approval to hold the rally there.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Malaysia braced itself for a weekend of demonstrations as protesters have pledged to take to the streets to push for an investigation into and eventual ouster of the Prime Minister.

Datuk Seri Najib Razak himself, making his first comments on this yesterday, criticised the organisers, saying the timing and venue of the protests would clash with Independence Day parade rehearsals.

He said the country's Independence Day, on Aug 31, should not be an avenue for airing political differences but instead unite Malaysians with a sense of patriotism.

"Is it right for the rally to go on at a time and place so close to our Merdeka Day? Think about it," Mr Najib said in an audio recording uploaded on his blog yesterday.

"Even if you want to gather, pick a time and place that will not create any provocation. Whatever our differences are, this Independence Day should not be a platform for political misunderstanding."

He did not mention the rally organiser, Bersih, by name but told the group not to disrespect national heroes who had fought for the country's independence.

Electoral reforms group Bersih has spearheaded three mass street rallies since it was formed in 2006.

The new rally is to protest against what Bersih calls the Prime Minister's attempt to muzzle criticism and to stifle investigations into claims that he received state funds in his personal accounts.

Jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim made an impassioned plea in his "Merdeka" message yesterday and called on Malaysians to join the rally, dubbed Bersih 4.

"There is a tide in our affairs which, unless we seize it, will see our voyage for democracy and rule of law in shallows and in miseries.

"This is the rising tide of corruption and electoral fraud; financial malfeasance; arrogance of power and transgression; and judicial impropriety!" Anwar said on his blog.

The authorities have called the rally illegal and banned the wearing of yellow clothing bearing the words "Bersih 4" - Bersih has sold thousands of such T-shirts.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline 'Najib slams Bersih rally for clashing with Merdeka Day'. Print Edition | Subscribe