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Thousands hold anti-PM rally in Malaysia; 15 detained

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Instead, the Bersih rally culminated in a large gathering in front of Kuala Lumpur's landmark Petronas Twin Towers. Online news portal Malaysiakini put the crowd Saturday at more than 40,000. As many as 200,000 people showed up previous year at one point. Several opposition leaders were also detained just a day before the demonstration along with Bersih leaders.

Activists from the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) march during a rally in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Saturday.

Bersih, which means "clean" in Malay, is an alliance of scores of NGOs and civil-society groups that staged several protests over the years for electoral reform, but has now shifted focus to 1MDB.

"We are no longer a democracy, we are known as a kleptocracy".

The 91-year-old Mahathir, who led Malaysia for 22 years until 2003, has set up a new party that will run under the opposition banner in the next elections, due by mid-2018.

Najib, who has denied any wrongdoing, said he won't be cowed by the rallies.

Malaysia has been gripped since previous year by the 1MDB scandal, which has sparked investigations in several countries. We love this country.

"We should not be afraid to show our opposition to the government", Mahathir, wearing a yellow Bersih shirt, told the crowd.

Thirteen other people, mostly politicians and activists, were also held to prevent rioting, police said.

"Our country is being governed by clowns and crooks".

On Friday, he condemned Bersih as a "deceitful" scheme "to unseat a democratically elected government".

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This marked the fifth rally organised by Bersih, which also held similar protests concurrently in two Malaysian cities on Borneo island.

The scandal over a state development fund Najib set up in 2009 has drawn the attention of law enforcement agencies from around the world.

The US Justice Department said that at least $3.5 billion had been stolen from 1MDB by people close to Najib and initiated action in July to seize $1.3 billion it said was taken from the fund to buy assets in the US.

Najib has taken steps critics say aim to limit discussion of the scandal, such as sacking a deputy prime minister, replacing the attorney-general and suspending newspapers and blocking websites.

Bersih said on Twitter that police raided its office on Friday and detained its chairwoman Maria Chin and another official Mandeep Singh.

SOSMA was introduced in 2012 to protect the country from security and extremist threats.

"Even if you take the figure supplied by Malaysiakini, today's total was no higher than 41,000 - less than 10 per cent of the figure Bersih claimed a year ago", he said in a statement here tonight. "Her Sosma detention is clearly made in bad faith & not intended by Parliament".

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, meets his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, during the week.

Fears of clashes between Bersih and a pro-Najib group called Red Shirts mounted this week after the latter threatened to target Bersih supporters.

But Jamal Yunos, a red-shirt leader, was also arrested hours before the protest after earlier warning "anything can happen, including violence".

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