Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has thrown his weight behind a massive rally planned for the weekend to demand that scandal-tainted Prime Minister Najib Razak resign.
Mr Najib, who is eyeing an early election next year, faces outrage over his involvement in a multi-billion-dollar financial scandal at state fund 1MDB, and has used harsh measures to silence critics.
Election reform group Bersih, the organiser of Saturday’s rally, has demanded Mr Najib resign.
Malaysia is “facing a state of panic”, Mr Mahathir, wearing Bersih’s signature yellow T-shirt, said in a video posted online.
“I hope all Malaysians will join this demonstration by Bersih which is aimed at finding a way to fix this country,” said Mr Mahathir, who quit Mr Najib’s ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in February.
Mr Mahathir, Malaysia’s longest serving prime minister, formed a new political group this year in his campaign to oust former protege Mr Najib.
‘Repeat of racial riots in 1969’
Concerns are growing that Bersih supporters and pro-government groups could clash at the rally, with the group’s chairwoman having received anonymous death threats.
“We cannot stop because if we stop and we don’t protest, then we can’t have any say in any legislation, policies or laws,” said the chairwoman, Maria Chin Abdullah, who led a similar rally last year.
Ethnic Indian and Chinese minorities formed the bulk of the 200,000 protesters at the time.
A six-week campaign by Bersih ahead of the rally has been marred by violent confrontations between the group and a pro-state group called Red Shirts.
Red Shirts leader Jamal Yunos, an UMNO member, has warned of a repeat of racial riots in 1969, when clashes between Malays and ethnic Chinese killed hundreds.
Mainly Muslim ethnic Malays form about 60 percent of Malaysia’s population of 30 million, while ethnic Chinese and Indians account for about 32 per cent.
Lawsuits filed by the US Justice Department in July say more than $700 million of misappropriated funds from 1MDB flowed into the accounts of “Malaysian Official 1”, whom US and Malaysian officials have identified as Mr Najib.
Mr Najib has denied wrongdoing, but has taken steps critics say aim to limit discussion of the scandal, such as sacking a deputy prime minister and a former attorney-general, besides suspending newspapers and blocking websites.
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