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Malaysia rally speakers may be charged: police

Malaysian opposition supporters wave flags during a rally at a stadium in Kelana Jaya on May 8, 2013
Malaysian opposition party supporters dressed in mourning black wave flags during a rally at a stadium in Kelana Jaya, Selangor on May 8, 2013. Police said Thursday that speakers at a mass rally led by Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to protest

Police said Thursday they may pursue sedition charges against speakers at a mass rally organised by Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to protest against alleged election fraud.

The announcement was swiftly condemned by Anwar's party as a "politically motivated threat" aimed at silencing opposition claims that last Sunday's hard-fought elections were stolen by the ruling coalition.

Vowing to "never surrender" as he addressed a sea of supporters at a rally in a Kuala Lumpur suburb, Anwar late Wednesday announced that a series of protest gatherings would be held around the country.

Rafizi Ramli, an official from his party, said two rallies were planned for the weekend in northern states including Anwar's home state of Penang, with another two early next week on the east coast and in the south.

During Wednesday's rally attended by tens of thousands, dressed in black to protest the election outcome, Anwar denounced the Barisan Nasional (National Front) government of Prime Minister Najib Razak as "illegitimate".

"We will go to every corner of this country," Anwar declared, prompting roars from the multiracial crowd, who filled a stadium and its football field and spilled out in surrounding neighbourhoods.

"We will continue to struggle and we will never surrender!"

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim speaks during a rally at a stadium in Kelana Jaya, Selangor on May 8, 2013
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim speaks during a rally at a stadium in Kelana Jaya, Selangor on May 8, 2013.

Hisan Hamzah, police chief of the state of Selangor where the rally took place, told AFP he may pursue sedition charges against most of the 33 speakers at the rally. He would not confirm whether Anwar would be among them.

"This is a very serious offence," he said, declining to give further details. Sedition carries a penalty of up to five year's jail.

"This illegal police investigation is clearly intended to divert attention from the massive electoral fraud and irregularities that are being highlighted by Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact)," a statement by Anwar's party said, using the name of the three-party opposition alliance.

The huge turnout and the charismatic Anwar's call for similar rallies across the country upped the ante in an opposition campaign to paint the elections as a fraudulent victory for the coalition that has ruled Malaysia for 56 years.

Anwar has said he would soon produce evidence to prove his claims.

Najib has denied the allegations and urged opponents to accept the election result gracefully.

In the United States, a spokesman for President Barack Obama congratulated Najib on the win but said: "We note concerns regarding reported irregularities in the conduct of the election, and believe it is important that Malaysian authorities address concerns that have been raised."

Najib's office said before Wednesday's rally that the gathering was "calculated to create unrest". But it went off without any reported incidents.

It was not clear whether authorities would push the sedition probe.

Police had earlier threatened to arrest rally participants, but with tension high over the country's closest-ever election result, no police were seen.

Government critics routinely accuse the authoritarian government of using various criminal charges to silence dissent.

Anwar has battled Barisan since he was ousted from its top ranks in 1998 and jailed for six years on sex and corruption charges widely seen as trumped-up.

The opposition has made a host of allegations including suspicious handling of ballot boxes and suspected foreigners being drafted in to vote.

Indelible ink -- meant to thwart multiple voting -- easily washed off.

A report released Wednesday by two independent watchdogs noted "serious flaws" in the electoral system and said the vote was "only partially free and not fair".

The election was seen as the first in which the opposition had a chance to unseat the coalition which has governed since independence in 1957.

Barisan retained a firm parliamentary majority despite winning less than half the popular vote, a factor blamed on its tinkering with electoral districts.

"The government has stolen it. This is not the people's will," said Kenny Lim, 32, an engineer who attended the Kuala Lumpur rally.

"We come out peacefully to fight for a clean election -- that's why we are here."

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