Thousands in Malaysia protest against PM

Audrey Edwards
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Thousands in Malaysia protest against PM

Thousands of protesters have rallied in Malaysia to call for the resignation of the prime minister.

Thousands of protesters in the Malaysian capital have taken part in an anti-government rally, despite the arrest of rally leaders and the leader of a counter-protest.

The area surrounding Kuala Lumpur's Merdeka Square was filled with protesters wearing the group's signature colour yellow, who waved flags and shouted slogans such as "Free the people" and "Bersih" (the Malay word for clean).

The rally was organised by pro-democracy group The Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak who it accuses of "grand corruption".

"The reason we are here is not topple the government, but if Najib cannot do the job then it should (be passed) to someone else," protester Mohd Nazar Mat Juan said.

There was a strong police presence in the city and multiple roads were closed.

Supporters of a counter-rally, organised by the pro-government Red Shirt group, gathered at Padang Merbok, one kilometre from Merdeka Square.

Jamal Yunos, the counter-demonstration leader, was detained early on Saturday, according to news portal The Star Online.

Bersih's offices were also raided by police on Friday, and chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah and secretariat member Mandeep Singh were detained.

Women's rights activist Ivy Josiah said the arrests showed the government felt "rattled" by the planned rally.

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said the arrests were an attempt to decapitate the Bersih movement on the eve of the rally by making sure its key leaders were in jail.

Najib said he was unfazed by the protest, adding that he would "accept and respect the will of the people only when the general election is called".

Najib has been at the centre of a corruption scandal since July 2015, when a Wall Street Journal report suggested that $US673 million ($A916 million) his personal bank accounts had been siphoned off from the beleaguered 1 Malaysia Development Berhad state fund.