Malaysian anti-government group launches campaign to oust premier

A Malaysian pro-democracy group began a nationwide campaign on Saturday to attempt to force Prime Minister Najib Razak to step down over corruption allegations.

The civil society group Bersih 2.0, comprised of nearly 100 Malaysian NGOs, said it plans to hold anti-government events in 246 locations across the country over the next seven weeks, culminating in a major rally in Kuala Lumpur on November 19.

Saturday's kickoff occurred in six different regions of Malaysia. Supporters of Bersih 2.0 plan to gradually converge in convoys toward Kuching, Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur.

The group hopes to encourage Malaysians to stand up to perceived government abuses of power and corruption, and to demand electoral reforms, a freer press and stronger public institutions.

Bersih staged a similar rally in August 2015, demanding institutional reforms and the resignation of the prime minister. The group claimed that half a million people participated in the two-day event in Malaysia and abroad.

Najib has been at the centre of a corruption scandal since July 2015, when a Wall Street Journal report suggested that 673 million dollars in the prime minister's personal bank accounts had been siphoned off from a beleaguered state fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

1MDB was established in 2009 after Najib became prime minister to boost local industries. It has been hobbled by an estimated 12 to 14 billion dollars in debt and allegations of mismanagement.

In July, the US Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit seeking to seize more than 1 billion dollars in assets that were "misappropriated" from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.

The Justice Department alleged that from 2009 through 2015, more than 3.5 billion dollars in funds belonging to 1MDB were misappropriated by high-level officials of 1MDB and their associates.

Najib has denied the accusations, and the Malaysian Attorney General's Office said the money in Najib's personal bank accounts came from the Saudi royal family as political donations.

Last update: Sat, 01/10/2016 - 10:28

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