Malaysian clerics issue fatwa against demos

Malaysian clerics have issued a fatwa against demonstrations, days after Prime Minister Najib Razak said a quashed election reform rally was being used to topple the government ahead of polls.

Tens of thousands defied a government ban and took to the streets on April 28 to demand clean elections, breaking through barricades and clashing with police, who fired tear gas and chemical-laced water, arresting 513 people.

"Rioting, causing disturbance and damaging public property are all forbidden by Islam," National Fatwa Committee chairman Abdul Shukor Husin told state media late Sunday.

"This also applies to any intention to topple a duly-elected government by organising such demonstrations," he added.

Najib is widely expected to set a June date for what is predicted to be a close battle between his ruling coalition and the opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim, but observers say polls may be pushed back over the rally fallout.

Although video sharing sites like YouTube have shown many scenes of heavy-handed action against protestors, Najib told state media Friday that the Dataran Merdeka or Independence Square rally, which was supported by opposition groups, was aimed at more than just electoral reforms.

"They had the intention to take over Dataran Merdeka, not to gather for two or three hours but for two or three days or even longer, to show that the government cannot control the situation," he told the national news agency Bernama.

"They wanted to make Dataran Merdeka like the Tahrir Square in Egypt," he added.

Federal police chief Ismail Omar told the Star newspaper they had started an investigation to identify the mastermind behind the alleged overthrow attempt.

Analysts say Najib may delay expected polls following the rally, as his reform credentials appear to have been dented.

Najib was also hit by heavy criticism of a police crackdown on a similar rally for electoral reform last year and has since launched a campaign to repeal some authoritarian laws and pledged to expand civil liberties to regain voter support.

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