Bersih planning second KL protest

Pro-democracy group Bersih said it will call on Malaysians to take to the streets soon, its second such protest against Prime Minister Najib Razak's leadership after a mammoth gathering last August brought Kuala Lumpur to a standstill.

Bersih chief Maria Chin Abdullah told a press conference yesterday that "the date and details of the Bersih 5 rally will be announced in due course".

Bersih is pushing for another street rally following the July 20 move by the United States to seize the US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion) of assets allegedly siphoned out of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the troubled state fund overseen by Datuk Seri Najib.

"Not protesting is not an option," said Ms Chin, head of the coalition of 94 civil society bodies.

"They (the Prime Minister and the Cabinet) have allowed the 1MDB scandal to escalate... without any compulsion for accountability. If they continue with their inaction, the PM and his Cabinet must resign," she added.

Ms Chin said Bersih wanted to raise awareness of the 1MDB issue via roadshows and other programmes - especially in largely rural Malay areas - before finalising details for the rally, its fifth in the last nine years.

Last year's peaceful Bersih demonstration was a predominantly Chinese affair, leading pro-government supporters to paint the protest as an attempt to wrest political power from the Malay majority.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) two weeks ago in its civil suits named Mr Najib's stepson Riza Aziz and businessman Low Taek Jho, a former confidant of the Prime Minister, as having laundered money out of 1MDB, with US$3.5 billion said to have been siphoned from taxpayers.

Media reports in July last year said US$700 million linked to 1MDB had been found in Mr Najib's personal accounts.

Early this year, Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali cleared Mr Najib of any wrongdoing, declaring the money to be a political donation from the Saudi royal family.

The Prime Minister has said the US lawsuits were "a civil action... limited to the names mentioned in the DOJ report".

Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said he will allow the Bersih protest as long as it follows rules under the country's Peaceful Assembly Act.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2016, with the headline 'Bersih planning second KL protest'. Print Edition | Subscribe