Posts Tagged ‘Red Shirts’

Thailand’s hopes of democracy are receding

September 1, 2017

The Economist

A former prime minister’s flight bolsters the junta

WHEN Yingluck Shinawatra, a former prime minister of Thailand, fled the country a few days ago, she left more than an empty chair in the Supreme Court behind. On August 25th she had been due to hear the verdict in a case against her for negligence in a rice-subsidy scheme she ran while in office that cost the government around $16bn. Though she was ousted in a coup in 2014, Ms Yingluck had remained a symbolic figure for opponents of the junta. The generals will not be sorry she has gone.

The scene at the courthouse—and Ms Yingluck’s absence from it—epitomised the shambles that Thai politics has descended into. When she failed to turn up, the judge said he did not believe her lawyer’s claim that she was ill and demanded her arrest. Despite Ms Yingluck’s poor record in office, and a very heavy police presence, many thousands of her fans turned up at the courthouse hoping to catch a glimpse of her (one of them is pictured, after hearing news of the escape of her hero whose face is on her shirt).

Ms Yingluck fled to Dubai, where her billionaire brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was prime minister between 2001 and 2006, himself fled 11 years ago before the conclusion of a graft case. The family’s influence reflects the narrowness of the country’s political class. Since 2001 the Shinawatra clan has won every election held in the country that the generals have permitted to take place. Critics of Ms Yingluck claim that her brother continued to pull the strings from his self-imposed exile during his sister’s rule. Like him, she pursued populist policies, such as the rice scheme, which pleased their largely rural supporters, known as “red shirts”, and angered royalist rivals, or “yellow shirts”.

A thrice-delayed general election is due to be held next year. But Ms Yingluck’s departure bodes ill for any hope of renewing Thailand’s democracy. Without her, the red shirts have no political figurehead, says Michael Montesano of the Institute of South-East Asian Studies, a think-tank in Singapore. Her flight will further demoralise the already weak Pheu Thai party she heads.

Without Ms Yingluck, the ruling junta may find it easier to maintain a tight grip. It has dodged the dilemma of imprisoning a much-loved politician, or freeing her and undermining its own authority. Corruption, such as that which plagued the rice scheme on Ms Yingluck’s watch, was cited by the junta as one justification for its coup. (On the day of Ms Yingluck’s no-show, Thailand’s generals had the satisfaction of seeing a 42-year sentence imposed by the Supreme Court on her former commerce minister for offences related to those that she was alleged to have committed.)

But there are potential troubles ahead for the junta. In just two months the cremation will take place of the country’s much loved king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016. He was succeeded by his less popular son, Maha Vajiralongkorn. More drama from the Shinawatra clan could disrupt the careful choreography of the event.

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Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. (Associated Press)

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Another coup for the generals”
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Thailand’s Former PM Yingluck Fled to Dubai

August 26, 2017

BANGKOK — Thailand’s former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has fled to Dubai, senior members of her party said on Saturday, a day after she failed to show up for a negligence ruling in which she faced up to 10 years in prison.

Puea Thai Party sources said Yingluck left Thailand last week and flew via Singapore to Dubai where her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a 2008 jail sentence for corruption, has a home.

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Thailand’s former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra — FILE photo taken while she was PM

“We heard that she went to Cambodia and then Singapore from where she flew to Dubai. She has arrived safely and is there now,” said a senior member of the Puea Thai Party who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Deputy national police chief General Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul said police had no record of Yingluck, 50, leaving the country and were following developments closely.

A Reuters reporter was stopped by security at the exclusive Emirates Hills community in Dubai, where Thaksin has a home.

Supporters of Thailand’s former prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, outside the Supreme Court in Bangkok on Friday. She remains popular among the rural poor three years after she was forced from office. Credit Diego Azubel/European Pressphoto Agency

A Thaksin spokesperson in Dubai did not respond to attempts by Reuters to contact Thaksin.

Police estimate that up to 3,000 supporters had gathered outside the court in Bangkok on Friday where Yingluck was due to hear a verdict in a negligence trial against her involving a rice buying policy of her administration.

But Yingluck did not show up at the appointed hour and the court quickly issued a statement saying she had cited an ear problem as the reason for her no-show.

The court rejected the excuse and moved the verdict reading to September 27. It later issued an arrest warrant for Yingluck.

Immigration police said they would arrest Yingluck on the spot if she is found.

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Thailand’s former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra

Overthrown in 2014, Yingluck had faced up to 10 years in prison if found guilty. Her former commerce minister was jailed in a related case for 42 years on Friday.

Political parties led or backed by the Shinawatras have dominated Thai politics, winning every general election since 2001.

The Shinawatras have been accused of corruption and nepotism by the Bangkok-based establishment who loath Thaksin. The family command huge support in the poorer, rural north and northeast.

A spokesman for the military government did not respond to a Reuters request for comment about Yingluck’s whereabouts.

The rice buying scheme, a flagship policy of Yingluck’s administration, proved popular with rural voters but the military government says it incurred $8 billion in losses.

Yingluck pleaded innocent to the charges against her and said she was the victim of political persecution.

The military government has used sweeping powers to silence critics, including supporters of the Shinawatras, since 2014.

The mood in the northeast, a Shinawatra stronghold, was somber on Saturday. Leaders of the red-shirt United Front For Democracy there said they weren’t surprised Yingluck fled.

“Most people I know feel glad that Yingluck has left the country,” said one red shirt leader, who declined to be named for safety reasons.

“For now there will be less activity from the red shirts because of military suppression.”

(Additional reporting by Panu Wongcha-um in KHON KAEN and William Maclean in DUBAI; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Thailand’s ‘lost decade’

August 25, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | On Friday ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra failed to show at a court date that could have seen her jailed. Speculation is rife that she may have fled the country

BANGKOK (AFP) – On Friday ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra failed to show at a court date that could have seen her jailed.

Speculation is rife that she may have fled the country injecting fresh drama into a recent history littered by coups, long periods of autocracy and brief flowerings of democracy.

Here is a timeline of Thailand’s recent political history.

– 2001 –

Telecoms billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra wins elections in a landslide. He rolls out policies that are popular among the rural and urban poor, including universal healthcare, debt relief and farming subsidies.

– 2005 –

Thaksin becomes the first elected Thai prime minister to complete a four-year term. He goes on to win a second landslide.

– 2006 –

Opposition to Thaksin builds, sparked by accusations of corruption and nepotism within his family as well as his administration’s authoritarian streak.

Thaksin calls a snap election which is undermined by a large opposition boycott. The army seizes power while Thaksin is overseas — their first coup in 15-years.

– 2007 –

Fresh elections are held in December which are promptly won by a coalition of Thaksin allies, infuriating his opponents.

– 2008 –

Thaksin’s enemies — primarily Bangkok’s royalist middle classes and their allies among the city’s business and military elite — mobilise with huge and sometimes deadly street protests.

They are dubbed the “Yellow Shirts” and famously go on to occupy Bangkok’s main airports in a bid to unseat the government.

Courts kick two Thaksin-allied prime ministers from office and convict Thaksin in absentia of corruption, seizing more than $1 billion in assets.

British-born Abhisit Vejjajiva of the opposition Democrat Party is appointed premier in a parliamentary vote with army backing.

– 2010 –

Thaksin’s supporters rally en masse in Bangkok calling for fresh elections, arguing Abhisit’s government never won power through the ballot box.

They are mainly made up of rural farmers from the Shinawatras’ northern stronghold and Bangkok’s working class and are dubbed the “Red Shirts”.

Clashes between protesters and troops in April and May leave 90 dead, mostly demonstrators, in the worst civil violence in decades.

– 2011 –

Open elections are once again won by the Shinawatras with Thaksin’s youngest sister Yingluck becoming Thailand’s first female prime minister.

– 2013 –

Successors of the Yellow Shirts start holding mass protests against Yingluck’s government.

Bloody protests ensue, their anger fuelled by her government’s generous rice subsidy scheme and an attempt to push through a political amnesty that would allow Thaksin to return.

– 2014 –

As protests continue, Yingluck calls snap elections but her opponents block more than 10,000 polling stations. Tension builds. Yingluck and several cabinet ministers are removed from office by the Constitutional court.

Two weeks later army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who repeatedly promised no coup was on the horizon, seizes power. The coup ushers in Thailand’s most autocratic government in a generation.

– 2015 –

Yingluck is retroactively impeached by the junta’s rubber stamp parliament over her government’s rice subsidy, banning her from politics for five years.

– 2016 –

Thailand’s junta hold a referendum on a new constitution which they say will reign in corrupt politicians and restore stability.

Critics say the new charter is a throwback to Thailand’s autocratic past when democracy was “steered” by powerful unelected bodies and the military.

In October the country’s widely revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej dies after seven decades on the throne, plunging Thailand into mourning.

The junta says fresh elections will be held in 2018.

– 2017 –

August 25: Yingluck skips a court date that could see her jailed for a decade over criminal negligence, sparking rumours that she has fled the country like her brother.

Thai Military Ruler Says Authorities Searching for Ex-PM

August 25, 2017

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

AUG. 25, 2017, 2:39 A.M. E.D.T.

Supporters of Thailand’s former prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, outside the Supreme Court in Bangkok on Friday. She remains popular among the rural poor three years after she was forced from office. Credit Diego Azubel/European Pressphoto Agency

BANGKOK — Thailand’s military ruler said Friday that authorities are searching for Yingluck Shinawatra — the prime minister he ousted three years ago — after she failed to appear for the verdict in a criminal case that could send her to prison for up to 10 years.

Yingluck is accused of negligence in overseeing an ill-fated rice subsidy program that cost the state billions of dollars. She pleaded innocent and decried the charges as politically motivated.

A decision had been expected Friday, as thousands of Yingluck supporters gathered outside the court and thousands of police stood guard. But Yingluck never appeared, and a judge read out a statement saying her lawyers had informed the court she could not attend because of an earache.

The judge said the court did not believe the excuse, however, because no official medical verification was provided. He said a warrant would be issued for her arrest, and announced the trial would be postponed until Sept. 27.

It was not known where Yingluck was, and her absence fueled immediate speculation — so far unproved — that she might have left the country. Her lawyer could not be reached for comment.

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Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. (Associated Press)

Speaking at a nearby event on Friday, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the military chief who toppled Yingluck’s government in a 2014 coup, said he did not know where she was, but the government was checking.

“Police are informed, (but) there’s nothing yet,” he said. “We’re still looking for her.”

The trial is the latest chapter in a decade-long struggle by the nation’s elite minority to crush the powerful political machine founded by Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 coup. Thaksin, who has lived in Dubai since fleeing a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated, has studiously avoided commenting on his sister’s case, apparently to avoid imperiling it.

Thaksin is a highly polarizing figure here, and his overthrow triggered years of upheaval and division that has pitted a poor, rural majority in the north that supports the Shinawatras against royalists, the military and their urban backers.

When Yingluck’s government proposed an amnesty in 2013 that could have absolved her brother and allowed him to return without being arrested, street protests erupted that eventually led to her government’s demise in the 2014 coup.

The junta that seized control of Thailand has since suppressed dissent and banned political gatherings of more than five people. The long-awaited decision on Yingluck’s fate has rekindled tensions in the divided nation, but the military remains firmly in charge.

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Fearing potential unrest, authorities tried to deter people from turning out Friday by threatening legal action against anyone planning to help transport Yingluck supporters. Yingluck posted a message on her Facebook page urging followers to stay away, saying she worried about their safety.

Thousands of people turned up outside the Bangkok courthouse anyway, along with thousands of police who erected barricades around the court.

Prawit Pongkunnut, a 55-year-old rice farmer from the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima, said he came with 10 other farmers to show solidarity with Yingluck.

“We’re here to give her moral support because she truly cared and helped us out,” Prawit said.

The rice subsidies, promised to farmers during the 2011 election, helped Yingluck’s party ascend to power. Critics say they were effectively a means of vote-buying, while Yingluck supporters welcomed them.

The rice subsidy plan Yingluck oversaw paid farmers about 50 percent more that they would have made on the world market. The hope was to drive up prices by stockpiling the grain, but other Asian producers filled the void instead, knocking Thailand from its perch as the world’s leading rice exporter.

The current government, which is still trying to sell off the rice stockpiles, says Yingluck’s administration lost as much as $17 billion because it couldn’t export at a price commensurate with what it had paid farmers. If convicted, Yingluck has the right to appeal.

In a separate administrative ruling that froze her bank accounts, Yingluck was held responsible for about $1 billion of those losses — an astounding personal penalty that prosecutors argued Yingluck deserved because she ignored warnings of corruption but continued the program anyway.

___

AP journalists Grant Peck and Kankanit Wiriyasajja contributed to this report.

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Thai ex-PM Yingluck misses verdict, arrest warrant issued: judge

August 25, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Thanaporn PROMYAMYAI, Jerome TAYLOR | Former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra greets her supporters as she leaves the Supreme Court in Bangkok on July 21, 2017
BANGKOK (AFP) – Thai ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra missed a verdict in a negligence trial on Friday that could have seen her jailed, prompting the Supreme Court to issue an arrest warrant fearing she is a flight risk, a judge said.

Thousands of supporters — outnumbered by security forces — waited for a glimpse of Thailand’s first female prime minister, but she did not show.

“Her lawyer said she is sick and asked to delay the ruling… the court does not believe she is sick… and has decided to issue an arrest warrant,” fearing she may flee the country, lead judge Cheep Chulamon told the court, rescheduling the ruling date to September 27.

Yingluck’s government was removed by a military coup in 2014 and, if convicted for negligence over a rice subsidy to the rural poor, she faced up to 10 years in prison and a life ban from politics.

Her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra also a former premier, fled Thailand in 2008 before he was convicted of graft and handed a two year jail term.

A conviction for Yingluck, 50, would be a gut punch to the Shinawatra political dynasty, who have clung on in Thailand’s treacherous political game for more than a decade despite two coups, deadly protests, a cascade of law cases and asset seizures.

Yingluck’s flagship rice subsidy poured cash on her family’s rural political heartland, but was beset by graft and led to billions of dollars of losses.

In a Facebook post on Thursday Yingluck asked her followers to stay home to avoid any incidents stoked by people with “ill-intention against the country and us”.

Her previous court appearances over an 18 month trial have seen crowds gather outside the court, showering her with roses and chanting support — a rare sight in a nation where political meetings remain outlawed.

The Shinawatra family emerged as a political force in 2001 when billionaire patriarch Thaksin swept to power.

He jump-started the economy and provided the most extensive pro-poor welfare schemes in Thai history.

But critics accused him of using political power to further his business interests.

He remains loathed by the Bangkok royalist elite but cherished by the rural poor.

A coup toppled him in 2006 and he fled overseas following a graft conviction.

Protests and court cases have hacked at their governments and finances, followed by the 2014 coup.

To many supporters Yingluck is finally emerging from her elder brother’s shadow, drawing on a star quality absent amongst the gloomy cast of ageing generals who rule Thailand.

She has pleaded not guilty to the charges, saying she is the victim of a “subtle political game.”

But her enemies say a conviction is merited for a dynasty accused of graft and nepotism.

Historically the Shinawatras have been able to mobilise huge crowds of supporters — known as the “Red Shirts” — to take to the streets when the family’s political fortunes have waned.

But three years of repressive junta rule has successfully quashed any widespread opposition to the military for now.

by Thanaporn PROMYAMYAI, Jerome TAYLOR

Will new Constitution bring back political stability to Thailand?

April 12, 2017

By Yasmin Lee Arpon
The Straits Times

Thailand has taken the first step back towards a democratically elected government with the enactment of a new Constitution – the 20th since 1932 – but the jury is still out on whether political stability will return to the kingdom.

Many analysts remain wary because the new charter weakens politicians and their parties, strengthens the military and offers a stronger role for the King in Asean’s second-biggest economy.

“Thai politics in the past decade focused on minimising the influence of powerful politicians like Thaksin Shinawatra,” Siam Intelligence Unit executive director Kan Yuenyong told The Straits Times. “Thus, this Constitution is a result of political negotiations among the political elites.”

Thaksin, a populist leader, was ousted in a military coup in 2006. Since then, Thai politics has been gripped by political instability. The current military junta took over in 2014 after years of political violence on the streets between the pro-Thaksin Red Shirts and the Yellow Shirts controlled by Bangkok’s ruling elite. Thaksin, now living in self-exile in Dubai, and the Red Shirts remain hugely popular in the rural north and north-east of the country, and his proxies have repeatedly been returned to power in succesive polls.

Many view the new charter as a bulwark against the Red Shirts dominating Thai politics again.

One way it will do this, analysts say, is through the mechanism in which “leaders or officials of no morals, ethics and good governance” will be prevented from assuming office. But it isn’t quite clear who will decide the “morals, ethics and good governance” standing of such people.

The charter also paves the way for a 250-seat Senate, or Upper House, to be fully appointed by the military. Previously, the Senate was composed of 150 members, with 76 elected from each province and Bangkok, and 74 appointed from various sectors.

The Constitution was ratified by King Maha Vajiralongkorn last Thursday, the first step towards holding a general election that many expect will take place before the end of next year. Junta head and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army chief, is expected to step down after the next polls.

But this is not certain. Analysts are sceptical that the military will return to its barracks even after the polls, as the military-appointed Senate has been given the ultimate power to pick top officials, including the prime minister.

The outsized role for the military provided for in the charter has led to fears of corruption. “Thai politicians have been notoriously corrupt and shoddy over the years but when they get their chance at power, the men in uniform have proven not to be all that clean,” Dr Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, wrote in the Bangkok Post last week.

An unexpected development with the new charter was when the King asked for major changes to be made before signing off on it.

These included removing the necessity for the monarch to appoint a regent when he is away, and retaining the royal prerogative to intervene in times of political crises. The latter change reminded analysts of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who stepped in twice in 1973 and 1992 to resolve critical political deadlocks.

The charter was enacted on Chakri Day, marking the 235th anniversary of King Rama I’s ascension to the throne, which was seen as the new monarch’s desire for an auspicious start to his reign.

It remains to be seen whether the new Constitution will serve as the antidote that Thailand needs for political stability, which its preamble proclaims as its lofty aim.

http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/will-new-constitution-bring-back-political-stability-to-thailand

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak Seeks to Suppress Criticism Amid One of the World’s Biggest Corruption Scandals

March 31, 2017

Activists say government is pursuing clampdown on dissent

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As Malaysia grapples with one of the world’s biggest corruption scandals, critics of the government say they are facing pressure from a hard-line Malay nationalist group to keep silent.

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This piece takes a look at the Red Shirts, a group that has disrupted several antigovernment protests and assaulted activists, as seen in videos that have gone viral in Malaysia.

Activists say the attacks have made them wary of airing allegations—raised in a lawsuit last year by the U.S. Justice Department—that billions of dollars were siphoned away from 1Malaysia Development Bhd., a state development fund, to pay for real estate, art and other luxuries for people close to Prime Minister Najib Razak. Mr. Najib and 1MDB have denied wrongdoing and promised to cooperate with investigations. Mr. Najib has been cleared by the Malaysian attorney general.

A "Red Shirt" pro-government protester stood with riot police at his back at a demonstration in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2015.

A “Red Shirt” pro-government protester stood with riot police at his back at a demonstration in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2015. PHOTO:ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Red Shirts say they just want to restore the pride of the country’s Malay majority, which they say has been battered by members of the minority Chinese and Indian communities who have accused Mr. Najib of wrongdoing.

Activists say they believe the Red Shirts are being funded by the government as part of a wider clampdown on the opposition by Mr. Najib. At one Red Shirt rally, participants told a Wall Street Journal reporter that they were being paid to attend. The group denies paying its members. The ruling United Malays National Organization and the Red Shirts say they have no ties to each other.

Write to Yantoultra Ngui at yantoultra.ngui@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/red-alert-malaysian-nationalists-take-aim-at-najib-razaks-critics-1490949003?mod=e2fb

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Tens of Thousands Rally Against Malaysia’s Prime Minister — “Global embezzlement and money-laundering scheme” could be taking a toll

November 19, 2016

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Tens of thousands of yellow-shirt protesters rallied Saturday in Kuala Lumpur seeking Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s resignation over a financial scandal, undeterred by a police ban and the arrest of more than a dozen activists.

Protesters marched in downtown Kuala Lumpur and later moved to the Petronas Twin Towers after failing to enter Independent Square, the city’s main protest venue, which was locked down by police with water-cannon trucks on standby.

Some chanted “Save Democracy” and “Bersih, Bersih” — the name of the electoral reform group that organized the rally. The name means “clean” in the Malay language.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has been spearheading calls for Najib’s resignation, joined the rally, adding momentum to the demonstration.

“Everybody feels concerned about the kind of government we have now,” said Mahathir, wearing a yellow Bersih shirt. “We no longer live under democracy, but a kleptocracy — a nation ruled by thieves.”

The rally ended peacefully after a downpour.

Najib, who is attending an Asia-Pacific summit in Lima, Peru, has kept an iron grip since corruption allegations emerged two years ago involving the indebted 1MDB state fund that he founded. 1MDB is at the center of investigations in the U.S. and several other countries.

Najib, who has denied any wrongdoing, has called Bersih “deceitful” and said the group has become a tool for opposition parties to unseat a democratically elected government.

“We want to see Malaysia more developed and not robbed of billions of ringgit,” singer Wan Aishah Wan Ariffin, an opposition supporter, said at the rally.

The protest marked the fifth rally organized by Bersih, which also held similar demonstrations concurrently in two Malaysian cities on Borneo island.

The crowd appeared smaller than the last Bersih rally in August 2015, also demanding Najib to step down. Police didn’t give an estimate, but independent online news portal Malaysiakini put the crowd Saturday at more than 40,000.

Last year, police said 50,000 people attended the Bersih rally, but Bersih said there were at least 300,000.

Police on Friday raided the Bersih office and detained the group’s chairwoman, Maria Chin, for investigation into “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy.”

More than a dozen other people, mostly politicians and activists, were also detained on Friday and Saturday to prevent rioting, police said.

Those detained included ruling party politician Jamal Mohamad Yunos, whose supporters trooped to downtown to counter the Bersih rally. Police banned the rallies by Bersih’s yellow-shirt supporters and Jamal’s red-shirt group.

Lawyer Eric Paulsen tweeted that Chin was formally detained Saturday under a security law meant to be used against terrorists and can be held for a further 28 days. The other activists were remanded for several days in police custody.

Amnesty International slammed the crackdown and called for the immediate release of the Bersih activists, describing them as prisoners of conscience. “These arrests are the latest in a series of crude and heavy-handed attempts to intimidate Malaysian civil society activists and other human rights defenders,” Amnesty said in a statement.

The investigations into 1MDB fund are centered on allegations of a global embezzlement and money-laundering scheme. Najib started the fund shortly after taking office in 2009 to promote economic development projects, but the fund accumulated billions in debt over the years.

The U.S. Justice Department said that at least $3.5 billion had been stolen from 1MDB by people close to Najib and initiated action in July to seize $1.3 billion it said was taken from the fund to buy assets in the U.S.

The U.S. government complaints also said that more than $700 million had landed in the accounts of “Malaysian Official 1.” They did not name the official, but appear to be referring to Najib. Support for Najib’s National Front has eroded in the last two general elections. It won in 2013, but lost the popular vote for the first time to an opposition alliance.

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Thousands march in protests calling for Malaysian PM Najib Razak to step down amid scandal

November 19, 2016

Reuters

Anti-government protesters occupy a street during a rally in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Anti-government protesters occupy a street during a rally in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. AP photo by Vincent Thian

Thousands of protesters have gathered in Malaysia’s capital to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak over his alleged involvement in a multi-billion-dollar misappropriation scandal.

Clad in yellow shirts, protesters marched from various spots towards the heart of Kuala Lumpur amid tight security.

The mood among those gathered was festive, with drums and vuvuzelas heard along with speeches, songs and chants by participants calling for a “clean Malaysia” and “people power”.

The protest came a day after the head of pro-democracy group Bersih, the organisers of Saturday’s rally, was arrested along with several other supporters of the demonstration, including opposition leaders and student activists.

“We are not here to bring down the country. We love this country. We are not here to tear down the government, we’re here to strengthen it,” Bersih deputy chair Shahrul Aman Shaari told the crowds gathered at the National Mosque.

Another Bersih leader Hishamuddin Rais was arrested on Saturday at the rally, with police also issuing warnings to other participants.

A pro-government group called Red Shirts also rallied on Saturday, marching from the headquarters of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party towards Independence Square.

Police have said both rallies are illegal. State news agency Bernama said about 7,000 police officers would be on duty near the protest area.

Najib condemns ‘deceitful’ movement

Mr Najib, who is in Peru for the APEC Summit, said the protesters were “a tool of the opposition”.

“Their movement is deceitful,” he said in a speech uploaded on his website on Friday.

“It is clear that these street protests are in fact the opposition disguised as an independent NGO working to unseat a democratically elected government.”

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak.

A six-week campaign by Bersih ahead of the rally was marred by several violent confrontations with the Red Shirts, while anonymous death threats have been sent to Bersih chairwoman Maria Chin Abdullah.

Mr Najib’s administration has cracked down on the media and civil society in an attempt to silence criticism over his involvement in a financial scandal at state fund 1MDB.

Lawsuits filed by the US Justice Department in July say more than $US700 million ($954 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.

Reuters

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Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Najib, Jack Ma and the Flying Pig

November 7, 2016

COMMENT The future is yellow. Najib Abdul Razak’s infamous slogan, ‘You help me, I help you’, has been exported to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), where Najib’s ailing 1MDB has been given a lifeline.

Najib stands with Jack Ma on one side and his spouse, Rosmah on the other. The contrast is particularly galling. Jack Ma is a self made billionaire, Najib became one after a RM2.6 billion Arab ‘donation’, whilst ‘she’ is a ‘self-styled’ First Lady of Malaysia (Flom) and can induce a billion headaches.

Najib’s trip is a victory for people with vested interests, but the Malaysian taxpayer will bear the cost. Signing 14 deals worth RM144 billions with PRC industrialists, is like opening the floodgates to the PRC. It is a betrayal of Malaysia. He has openly snubbed Malaysians of Chinese descent, and his worshippers, the Malay nationalists and Ketuanan Melayu types, at the same time.

For many years, he encouraged the red-shirts and ministers like Ismail Sabri Yaakob to criticise Chinese Malaysians.

Whilst these two groups confronted one other at the front door, Najib quietly invited the PRC to enter via the back door, and told them to make themselves at home.

Chinese Malaysians have been blamed for everything from the high cost of cooking oil to chickens, from fish to flour. With more PRC visitors and workers arriving soon, who will the red-shirts blame for the increased cost of goods and services?

Despite the Islamic ties, the Arabisation of the Malays, the Wahhabi ideology practiced at home, Najib turned his back on the Saudis. With depleted oil reserves, and the Saudi taps running dry, it did not take long for Najib to turn to the east, in a move which mirrors that of a former PM.

Angered by the United States’ Department of Justice (DOJ) case, Najib sought vengeance by aligning himself with the PRC. Perhaps, he thought he could wrest control of many of the disputed islands in the South China Sea by jumping into bed with the PRC.

Whilst in China, Najib appointed Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, to advise the Malaysian government on Malaysia’s digital economy and its e-commerce activities.

This should be a marriage made in heaven, as Malaysians are no strangers to Ali Babas.

First, is the well-known story about Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, from ‘The Tale of the Arabian Nights’

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