Black-clad Malaysians stage rare protest

Black-clad Malaysians stage rare protest

Activists defy Covid curbs to speak out about government mismanagement

A protester holds up a sign as she takes part in a rare anti-government rally in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. (AFP Photo)
A protester holds up a sign as she takes part in a rare anti-government rally in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. (AFP Photo)

KUALA LUMPUR: Hundreds of black-clad Malaysians staged an anti-government protest Saturday in defiance of a ban on public gatherings under coronavirus curbs, piling pressure on the embattled prime minister to resign.

Wearing masks and keeping a distance from one another, the protesters waved banners reading “failed government” as well as black flags.

It was the first sizeable demonstration in Malaysia for some time, as many had been reluctant to take to the streets due to virus curbs and for fear of getting infected.

But anger is growing at the government’s handling of the virus outbreak — which is escalating despite a lockdown — and Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s attempts to keep his crisis-beset administration in power.

“We fight because while the people are suffering, this government is busy playing politics,” Karmun Loh, taking part in the protest in downtown Kuala Lumpur, told AFP.

“This government is … crippling the economy and also destroying our country’s democracy.”

Muhyiddin “is a terrible prime minister”, added demonstrator Shaq Koyok. “He needs to step down.”

There was a heavy police presence and officers blocked attempts by protesters to enter a central square before the rally peacefully dispersed.

Organisers said about 1,000 demonstrators took part but police put the number at around 400.

Police told local media that the protesters will be called in for questioning as they had violated the ban on gatherings.

Muhyiddin took power at the head of a scandal-plagued coalition last year without an election following the demise of a reformist administration. But his government is on the verge of collapse after allies withdrew support.

He came under renewed pressure to step down this week after parliament convened following a months-long suspension as part of a virus state of emergency.

His government was accused of dodging a vote that would have tested its shaky majority — drawing a rare rebuke from the country’s king.

Sunday is the final day of the six-month state of emergency but the nationwide lockdown will remain in place. Malaysia has reported almost 1.1 million virus cases and more than 8,800 deaths.

The final day of the special parliament sitting on Monday has been postponed indefinitely because of the growing Covid risk.

The postponement follows a risk assessment by the health ministry, which found that the parliament’s locality is at risk of the spread of infections, according to a letter from the House of Representatives secretary addressed to lawmakers on Saturday.

A sitting on Thursday was suspended after two staff members tested positive and the health ministry ordered screening for all lawmakers.

“Many MPs had expected this. Many quarters think it’s not due to Covid-19,” MP Ahmad Maslan wrote on Twitter. “The political crisis must be resolved immediately.”

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