(AFP) – Thousands of Malaysians gathered at a stadium Sunday for a mass anti-inflation rally organised by Anwar Ibrahim’s opposition alliance amid deepening political turmoil.
The crowd chanted “PM resign” as speakers criticised Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for last month’s 41 percent fuel price hike, which has deepened his unpopularity after disastrous March general elections.
Anwar, who is fighting back against new accusations of sodomy — the same charge that saw him jailed a decade ago — has said he is poised to seize power with the help of defecting government lawmakers.
The all-day protest which Anwar was due to address in the evening went ahead despite a police ban and fears authorities may use force to break up the gathering.
“Our aim is not to cause trouble but to get the message to the government that fuel prices must come down and we will not stop our protests until this happens,” said organiser Hatta Ramli from the Islamic opposition party PAS.
“The protests will only get worse until the government listens to the voice of the people to ease their burden and suffering.”
Some 5,000 people gathered at the suburban stadium, which was ablaze with T-shirts in red, the colour of the protest movement. Many sported bandanas with the slogan “No Price Hike.”
There was a festive air, with a Chinese lion dance and other performances, and outside the stadium traders sold everything from drinks to Islamic religious tracts.
“The whole family is having a good time but the message here is serious. How can we enjoy our lives when the government makes our survival difficult with all these sudden price increases?” said Mohamed Helmy Nor, who picnicked with his family on the pitch.
“We want prices lowered — we are suffering but the government appears to be doing nothing,” said housewife Aminah Rahman, 48, who along with her two young daughters was dressed in a red T-shirts and scarf.
The fuel price hike has heaped pressure on Abdullah after the March polls which handed the opposition its best ever result — a third of parliamentary seats and control of five states.
Anwar is now embroiled in a political battle with deputy prime minister Najib Razak — Abdullah’s heir apparent — trading serious allegations that have deepened Malaysia’s political crisis.
A week ago an aide to Anwar filed a police report claiming that the 60-year-old opposition leader had sodomised him, causing Anwar to flee to the Turkish embassy, saying he feared for his life.
The claims threatened his stunning political comeback, staged after he was sacked as deputy premier in 1998 and jailed on sodomy and corruption charges he said were orchestrated by the government.
In the next sensational turn of events, a private investigator made allegations linking Najib to a Mongolian woman murdered in 2006. A close friend of Najib is on trial for abetting the murder.
At a press conference organised by Anwar, Balasubramaniam Perumal released a sworn statement saying he had given police detailed information about 28-year-old Altantuya Shaariibuu which was never raised during the trial.
However, a day later, he retracted the claims linking Najib to Altantuya, saying he made them under duress.
His nephew on Saturday filed a missing person’s report, saying he and his family had disappeared.
Criminal Investigation Department director Bakri Zinin said Malaysian police had enlisted the help of Interpol and authorities in neighbouring countries to help locate the investigator.