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Malaysians take to streets, urge leader to resign

NEW YORK — Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the capital of Malaysia on Saturday to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is accused of taking $1 billion from a government investment fund.

The protesters, wearing the yellow T-shirts of Malaysia’s clean government movement, known as Bersih, converged on Kuala Lumpur’s city center to hear their leaders call for Najib’s ouster. Among the speakers was former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, 91, who once chose Najib as prime minister but now criticizes his former protégé’s government as corrupt.

Authorities had tried to thwart the daylong, peaceful demonstration by arresting at least eight protest leaders Friday, including Bersih’s chairwoman, Maria Chin Abdullah. She was being held under the country’s strict Security Offenses Act.

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Human rights advocates criticized the arrests, which they said were aimed at suppressing turnout for the rally.

“Security legislation should not be used against peaceful demonstrators,” said Laurent Meillan, acting regional representative of the United Nations’ human rights office in Southeast Asia. “We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Maria Chin Abdullah and other activists.”

This was the fifth year that Bersih, whose name means “clean” in Malay, had staged a protest calling for an end to corruption in government.