Tens of thousands of Malaysian protesters turned out in the streets of Kuala Lumpur on Saturday to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak following the discovery of millions of dollars worth of clandestine deposits made to his personal bank accounts.
An internal probe uncovered more than $700 million that had been deposited into Razak's accounts from entities linked with the state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
A government task force charged with determining whether there was mismanagement at the fund — which is presently more than $10 billion in debt — made the discovery. Razak claims the money was from a donor in the Middle East.
"Stop treating us like fools, Mr. Prime Minister," businessman Tony Wong said at the protests. "We deserve to know the truth about 1MDB. Where has the money gone to?"
Documents from the investigation that were leaked to the Wall Street Journal detailed investigators' suspicions that money from the fund was siphoned into Razak's personal bank accounts. The prime minister closed newspapers and removed the deputy premier and four other cabinet members who voiced concerns over his handling of the affair.
The government blocked a website linked to a rally organizer, banned yellow clothing, and denied protesters a permit to assemble, but demonstrators were not discouraged. Police estimated the turnout at 25,000 on Saturday, while organizers put it at nearly 200,000 people, nearly all clad in bright yellow shirts. Many tooted vuvuzela horns and carried signs demanding that Razak resign.
According to the Associated Press, more than 41,000 Malaysians have also downloaded FireChat — the messaging app that was integral to Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests last year and which enables users to communicate without internet connectivity — in anticipation that the government might shut off the internet.
The protests have remained peaceful so far, but Malaysian authorities have resorted to force to disperse demonstrations in the past. Police used water cannon and teargas to break up rallies organized by Bersih, the same group that organized Saturday's protests, in 2012 and 2011.
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