TIME China

China Says 197 Punished in Crackdown on Online Rumors

China Internet Crackdown
Ng Han Guan—AP A man takes a photo of near charred remains of new cars at a parking lot near the site of a warehouse explosion in Tianjin, China, on Aug. 13, 2015

The campaign is also aimed at suppressing criticism of the ruling Communist Party

(BEIJING) — People recently punished in China’s campaign against online rumors include those who circulated an inflated death toll in the Tianjin blasts and who alleged a man committed suicide because of the country’s stock market woes, state media reported Monday.

The official Xinhua News Agency said 197 people have been punished in a special campaign, citing the Public Security Ministry, but did not say over what period.

Authorities over the past two years have waged a campaign to purge rumormongering from the Chinese Internet, saying that unethical and unbecoming behavior online needs to be wiped out. Critics say the campaign also is aimed at suppressing criticism of the ruling Communist Party.

Xinhua cited the ministry as saying that 165 online accounts were closed in the campaign’s latest phase.

Among the rumors circulated were that a “man jumped to his death in Beijing due to the stock market slump,” and that “at least 1,300 people were killed in the Tianjin blasts.” The death toll in the Aug. 12 explosions at warehouses for hazardous chemicals in the port city so far is 150.

The ministry also said some of the people were punished for spreading seditious rumors about upcoming commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, which China marks on Thursday with a big military parade through Beijing.

TIME Baseball

Jake Arrieta Pitches No-Hitter for Chicago Cubs in 2-0 Win Over L.A. Dodgers

Jake Arrieta
Mark J. Terrill—AP Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta throws to the plate during the second inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, in Los Angeles

"I think it will be more special the longer it sets in"

(LOS ANGELES) — Jake Arrieta pitched the sixth no-hitter in the majors this season and second against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 10 days, leading the Chicago Cubs to a 2-0 victory Sunday night.

Arrieta (17-6) struck out a season-high 12 and became the first 17-game winner in the big leagues by throwing baseball’s third no-hitter in less than three weeks.

Astros right-hander Mike Fiers blanked the NL West-leading Dodgers 3-0 on Aug. 21. Never before had Los Angeles been no-hit twice in one season.

Arrieta got the benefit of a close call for the official scorer in the third inning, when Kike Hernandez reached on a fielding error by second baseman Starlin Castro.

Hernandez hit a one-hopper at Castro, who tried to play it on the short hop. The ball bounced off him and rolled away, allowing Hernandez to reach first.

The play was ruled an error but probably could have gone either way.

“I thought it was a hit,” Arrieta said. “Tough play. Hernandez hit it well. Tough short hop for Castro. They scored it an error, thankfully so, and I was able to finish it off.”

Hernandez was sacrificed to second before Arrieta struck out Jimmy Rollins to end the inning.

Carl Crawford nearly broke up the no-hit bid with two outs in the seventh, but Castro caught Crawford’s line drive up the middle with a running grab.

“Lights-out defense,” Arrieta said.

With the Dodger Stadium crowd roaring, Arrieta struck out all three batters in the ninth: Justin Turner, Rollins and Chase Utley. Those were the same three hitters — in a different order — that Fiers retired to finish off his gem.

With his 116th pitch, Arrieta fanned Utley on a breaking ball to end it. The 29-year-old pitcher was mobbed by teammates near the mound, and they jumped their way in a huddle over to near the Cubs’ dugout where they high-fived Arrieta.

“It went by so quick, really,” Arrieta said. “Feels like that could have been five innings the way that played out. The stuff was good, commanded the ball well. Kind of speechless right now.”

He became the first Cubs pitcher to throw a no-hitter since Carlos Zambrano on Sept. 14, 2008, against Houston in a game that was moved to Miller Park in Milwaukee because of Hurricane Ike.

“I think it will be more special the longer it sets in,” Arrieta said. “Come a long way, keep getting better.”

Arrieta walked one and helped the Cubs snap a four-game skid on the last night of their six-game West Coast trip. He finished August with a 6-0 record, tying Boston’s Joe Kelly as the only pitchers with that many wins in the month.

The right-hander lowered his ERA to 0.43 in August while becoming the first Cubs pitcher with that many wins in the month since Rick Sutcliffe in 1984.

Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer in the first inning off Alex Wood. The Cubs had 13 hits and snapped the Dodgers’ five-game winning streak.

Wood (9-9) gave up eight hits in six innings. The left-hander struck out seven and walked one.

Hisashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners pitched a no-hitter on Aug. 12 in a 3-0 win against Baltimore. Cole Hamels of Philadelphia, San Francisco’s Chris Heston and Washington’s Max Scherzer also have thrown no-hitters this season.

Arrieta threw a one-hit shutout against Cincinnati last Sept. 16 at Wrigley Feld, allowing his first hit to Brandon Phillips with one out in the eighth.

Last year, Arrieta became the first Cubs pitcher since 1950 to take a no-hitter into the seventh inning three times in one season. Two of those came in consecutive starts, making him the first to do so since Toronto’s Dave Stieb in June 1988.

UP NEXT

Cubs: RHP Kyle Hendricks (6-6, 4.11 ERA) starts the opener of a three-game series at Wrigley Field against Cincinnati. He is 1-1 with a 4.13 ERA in five starts this season against the Reds, but has a 1.50 ERA in two starts against them at home.

Dodgers: LHP Brett Anderson (8-8, 3.36) takes the mound for the opener of a crucial three-game series against the second-place Giants. He leads the majors with a 66.9 groundball percentage, inducing 307 grounders this season. His 147 1-3 innings and 25 starts are the second-highest totals of his career.

TIME Dominica

Dominica Declares Disaster After Storm Leaves 20 Dead

A river overflows, affecting some homes along its banks, due to Tropical Storm Erika in Roseau, Dominica, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. Streets across Dominica turned into fast-flowing rivers that swept up cars as the storm pummeled the eastern Caribbean island. (AP Photo/Carlisle Jno Baptiste)
Carlisle Jno Baptiste—AP A river overflows due to Tropical Storm Erika, in Roseau, Dominica, on Aug. 27, 2015.

More than 50 people were still missing

(ROSEAU, Dominica)—Rescue teams worked Sunday to reopen roads to remote communities in Dominica after Tropical Storm Erika caused flooding and mudslides that killed at least 20 people and left more than 50 missing on the Caribbean island.

“Access by road to these communities is impossible,” Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said. These towns “are cut off from the rest of the country.”

In a national address late Saturday, Skerrit said he was declaring disaster status for nine local areas.

On Sunday, the government ordered the evacuation of about 1,000 inhabitants from the small town of Petite-Savanne, fearing new landslides.

Erika whipped the island for more than five hours on Wednesday, bringing strong winds and intense rain that provoked flooding and landslides. Hundreds of homes were destroyed.

Crews were using heavy equipment sent by the governments of Venezuela, Martinique and Guadalupe. Hundreds of men worked Sunday to reopen the country’s main airport, where mud and debris impeded operations, Skerrit said.

Skerrit appealed for international aid and estimated that damage from the storm could set the country’s development back two decades.

In Haiti, the storm killed at least one person in a suspected landslide. Four others died when a truck hit a bus during the downpour.

TIME milwaukee

Milwaukee Mayor Wants All Police to Wear Body Cameras

06 Feb 2014, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA --- Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett speaks at a news conference for the 300-year-old Stradivarius violin that was taken from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra's concertmaster in an armed robbery after it was recently recovered, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin February 6, 2014. The Stradivarius violin worth millions of dollars, which was stolen from a concert violinist in an armed robbery last week, has been recovered from a suitcase in the attic of a Milwaukee house, law enforcement officials said on Thursday. REUTERS/Darren Hauck (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW ENTERTAINMENT SOCIETY) --- Image by © DARREN HAUCK/Reuters/Corbis
Darren Hauck—Reuters/Corbis Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett speaks at a news conference in Milwaukee on February 6, 2014.

The proposal would cost about $1 million per year

(MILWAUKEE)—All Milwaukee police officers on the street would be wearing body cameras by the end of 2016 under a proposal announced Sunday by Mayor Tom Barrett.

The proposal, first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, comes after tense episodes between police and Milwaukee’s African-American community and fatal shootings by police in Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland; and North Charleston, South Carolina, that sparked discussion nationwide about race and policing. Last year, 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton was fatally shot by a Milwaukee police officer in a downtown park.

According to Barrett’s preliminary budget, body cameras for 1,200 Milwaukee street officers — including storage of video information — would cost $880,000 in 2016 and about $1 million a year beginning in 2017.

The estimated cost is about what it would cost to add 12 officers to the department’s ranks of 1,880 sworn officers, Barrett told the newspaper.

“The question is: Is it worth 12 officers?” the mayor asked. “That’s a legitimate public policy debate.”

He added: “I embrace it wholeheartedly, both from a fiscal standpoint and from a policy standpoint.”

Both Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn and the president of the Milwaukee Police Association, Mike Crivello, support the initiative.

“If that’s OK with (citizens), it’s sure OK with us because, from the average officer’s point of view, it’s going to overwhelmingly put in context what they’re dealing with, what they try to do and what actually happens,” Flynn said at Marquette University last week.

“We’re looking forward to getting them,” he said.

Appearing with the mayor on Sunday, Flynn said Milwaukee police officers will have discretion to turn off the cameras for certain sensitive calls as part of a new department policy on use of the devices.

“This is new territory for American citizens as well as for police departments, and balancing a reasonable expectation of privacy when you summon the police department to deal with a family crisis has to be balanced with our need to be accountable and transparent,” Flynn said.

Crivello said there is “no doubt” the cameras “will absolutely depict the professionalism that our officers display on a daily basis.”

If Barrett’s proposal is approved, Milwaukee would join a growing number of police departments nationwide that are considering the use of body cameras or already outfitting some officers.

Attorney Robin Shellow represents some of the more than 60 people who have filed civil rights lawsuits against the City of Milwaukee and the Police Department alleging improper strip and cavity searches. While Shellow said she supports body cameras for police, she thinks more needs to be done.

“Yes, I believe in body cameras, but more importantly I think we should have police officers with college educations,” Shellow said. “I think that would do a lot more to reduce unconstitutional interactions.”

TIME tennis

Maria Sharapova Pulls Out of U.S. Open

ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, AUG. 29-30 - FILE - In this July 3, 2015, file photo, Maria Sharapova returns a ball to Irina-Camelia Begu during their singles match at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London. Sharapova is seeded third for the U.S. Open tennis tournament. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)
Pavel Golovkin—AP Maria Sharapova returns a ball to Irina-Camelia Begu during their singles match in Wimbledon, London, on July 3, 2015.

For the second time in three years

Maria Sharapova pulled out of the U.S. Open for the second time in three years Sunday, withdrawing on the eve of the tournament because of a lingering right leg injury.

The U.S. Tennis Association announced the withdrawal via a press release at about the same time that Sharapova, who won the title in New York in 2006, posted the news on her Facebook page.

“Unfortunately I will not be able to compete in this (year’s U.S.) Open. I have done everything possible to be ready but it was just not enough time,” Sharapova’s message said. “To all my amazing fans, I will be back in the Asian swing in a few weeks and look forward to finishing the year healthy and strong.”

In 2013, Sharapova skipped the U.S. Open because of a right shoulder injury. She also missed the Grand Slam tournament played on hard courts in Flushing Meadows in 2008, when she was off the tour for about 10 months because of surgery on her right shoulder.

Sharapova has not played a match on tour since losing to No. 1-ranked Serena Williams in the Wimbledon semifinals in July. The 28-year-old Russian withdrew from hard-court tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati in August, citing a right leg strain.

“From a player’s perspective you always have to believe in the ability to go through the little things that you might have. Physically, that’s part of sports, unfortunately,” Sharapova said in an interview this month. “There’s no athlete who’s ever 100 percent healthy.”

Sharapova is a five-time major champion who was going to be seeded No. 3 for the U.S. Open, where play begins Monday. She was drawn to possibly face Williams — who is bidding for tennis’ first calendar-year Grand Slam since 1988 — in the semifinals.

The USTA said that Daria Kasatkina, an 18-year-old Russian who is ranked 133rd, is the lucky loser who will replace Sharapova in the main draw.

Play begins Monday.

TIME Virginia

Slain TV Journalists Remembered at Memorial Service

A candle burns in front of a memorial for two slain journalists at Bridgewater Plaza in Moneta, Va., on Friday, Aug. 28, 2015. The shopping center where the two were killed during a live television broadcast was reopening Friday for the first time since the shootings. The shopping center where two journalists were slain during a live interview is set to open for the first time since the attack. (AP Photo/Jonathan Drew)
Jonathan Drew—AP A candle burns in front of a memorial for two slain journalists at Bridgewater Plaza in Moneta, Va., on Aug. 28, 2015.

Alison Parker and Adam Ward were shot dead on live TV

(ROANOKE, Va.) — Community religious leaders gathered Sunday to remember 24-year-old reporter Alison Parker and 27-year-old cameraman Adam Ward, the two television journalists who were shot and killed while working last week.

The interfaith service at the Jefferson Center in Roanoke was filled with somber prayers across several religions, along with music from the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and others.

The ceremony began with a slideshow of the WDBJ-TV journalists wearing warm smiles as they worked as a tag-team on stories.

In his remarks, WDBJ-TV General Manager Jeffrey Marks recalled that Parker and Ward were almost never angry. Marks said he suspected that the most you would get out of Parker was an “emphatic ‘darn,” and then she would be back hard at work.

“Adam and Alison saw that as their mission — to awaken us to what is good and fun in life,” Marks said.

Marks also talked about better prioritizing mental health treatment.

“Mental illness cannot exist on the periphery of health care,” Marks said. “It should be obvious that it needs to be center stage because most mental illness is treatable if we can get to the sufferer. In this case, we didn’t.”

Ward and Parker were on an early morning assignment for WDBJ-TV at Smith Mountain Lake when Vester Lee Flanagan walked up and shot them and Vicki Gardner, a Chamber of Commerce official, with a 9mm Glock pistol during a live interview. Ward and Parker died at the scene and Gardner is recovering in a hospital.

The shootings occurred as thousands of viewers across the central Virginia community watched the footage quickly spread to millions on social media. Flanagan shot himself as police pursued his car. He died hours later.

Ward’s funeral will be Sept. 1 at First Baptist Church in Roanoke. Parker’s obituary says after a private memorial service, a celebration of her life will happen at a later date.

TIME Alaska

President Obama Renames Mount McKinley ‘Denali’

UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 27: Mount McKinley (6194 meters), Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, United States of America. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
De Agostini/Getty Images Mount McKinley and the Denali National Park and Preserve, Ala., in a file photo from 2010.

That's the traditional Alaska Native name for the mountain

(WASHINGTON) — President Barack Obama says he’s changing the name of the tallest mountain in North America from Mount McKinley to Denali.

He’s giving the mountain its traditional Alaska Native name on the eve of a historic presidential visit to Alaska.

Denali is an Athabascan word meaning “the high one.” The name has long been a sore spot for Alaskans, who have informally called the 20,320-foot mountain Denali for years.

The mountain was named after former President William McKinley. There have been several efforts by Alaska politicians change it to Denali. But politicians from McKinley’s home state of Ohio have opposed changing the name.

Obama is citing the Interior Department’s authority to change the name.

Obama departs Monday for a three-day visit to Alaska aimed at focusing attention on climate change.

TIME Syria

ISIS Severely Damages Ancient Temple in Palmyra, Activists Say

Historic Ancient Palmyra Falls Under Control Of IS
Eric Travers—Sipa USA/AP The Temple of Bel in the town of Palmyra, Syria, in a file photo dated Aug. 08, 2001.

ISIS previous said it had blown up Palmyra's 2,000-year-old temple of Baalshamin

(BEIRUT) — Islamic State militants in Syria severely damaged the Bel Temple, considered one of the greatest sites of the ancient world, in a massive explosion Sunday, activists said.

The 2,000-year-old temple was part of the remains of the ancient caravan city of Palmyra in central Syria, seized by IS in May.

The news of the latest destruction at Palmyra came just days after IS released propaganda images purportedly showing militants blowing up another Palmyra temple, the 2,000-year-old Baalshamin dedicated to the Phoenician god of storms and fertilizing rains.

The U.N. cultural agency UNESCO, which has designated Palmyra as a world heritage site, called the destruction of the Baalshamin temple a war crime.

Earlier this month, relatives and witnesses said that IS militants had beheaded Khaled al-Asaad, an 81-year-old antiquities scholar who devoted his life to understanding Palmyra.

The Islamic State group, which has imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law across its self-declared “caliphate” straddling Syria and Iraq, says such ancient relics promote idolatry.

It already has blown up several sites in neighboring Iraq, and it is also believed to be selling looted antiquities.

A Palmyra resident, who goes by the name of Nasser al-Thaer, said IS militants set off a huge blast at 1:45 p.m. Sunday.

“It is total destruction,” he said of the scene of the explosion. “The bricks and columns are on the ground.”

“It was an explosion the deaf would hear,” he added.

The resident said only the outer wall surrounding the temple remains.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists in Syria, said the temple was damaged. It did not provide details.

The temple, consecrated to the Semitic god Bel, had been well-preserved and was a source of much pride for Syrians. It was consecrated in 32 A.D.

It stood out among the ruins not far from the colonnades of Palmyra, which is affectionately known by Syrians as the “Bride of the Desert.”

Earlier Sunday, IS fighters pushed into a large district in southern Damascus, clashing with rival militants just a few kilometers from the center of the Syrian capital, the extremist group and Syrian activists said.

More than two dozen militants were killed in the clashes on the edges of the Qadam neighborhood, said the Observatory.

The pro-IS Aamaq News Agency reported that IS fighters seized half of Qadam. The Observatory’s Rami Abdurrahman said IS fighters were holding two streets and that fighting was continuing.

IS supporters posted propaganda pictures claiming to show IS fighters advancing in the narrow streets of Qadam. The authenticity of the images could not be confirmed independently.

IS has emerged as one of the most powerful forces in the battle to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad. Armed Islamic factions fighting forces loyal to Assad control parts of Damascus and large parts of the city’s suburbs. IS fighters control large parts of the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, east of Qadam.

Also Sunday, a mortar round hit an upscale neighborhood of central Damascus, killing four people, including a girl, Syrian state TV said.

It is not uncommon for Damascus to be shelled. Sunday’s attack targeted the posh neighborhood of Abu Rummaneh, which houses hotels and several embassies.

An Associated Press reporter on the scene saw two people wounded by shrapnel. Vehicles in the area were also damaged.

TIME movies

Straight Outta Compton Tops Box Office for Third Week

The Christian drama War Room came in second place

(NEW YORK) — The Christian drama “War Room” made a surprise bid for the box-office lead, Zac Efron’s music drama “We Are Your Friends” bombed spectacularly and the N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Compton” keeps chugging along.

Universal’s “Straight Outta Compton” topped the box office for the third-straight week with $13.2 million at North American theaters over the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday. The film, which has now made $134.1 million in total, has continued to dominate August moviegoing. It joins “Jurassic World” as the only movies to lead the box office three consecutive weeks this summer.

The late August weekend held scant competition for “Straight Outta Compton,” but “War Room” nearly matched it. The Sony TriStar release took in $11 million by appealing to faith-based audiences, an often powerful but underserved demographic at the multiplex. “War Room” is about an African-American family who perseveres through prayer.

“We knew that we were going to get a lot of love, we just didn’t expect quite this much love,” said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony. “This is a genre that we’re very much committed to.”

The film, directed by Alex Kendrick, is the highest opening yet for Affirm Films, a production company that has had previous success with low-budget films that pull in Christian audiences through grassroots marketing.

So the success of “War Room” wasn’t overly surprising. Faith-based films have regularly performed well at the box office, and “War Room” capitalized on an especially quiet movie weekend.

But thoroughness of the flop of “We Are Your Friends” was unusual. The Warner Bros. release, an electronic dance music drama, wasn’t expected to do especially well. But the Efron-led film opened with just $1.8 million on 2,333 screens (more than twice the number for “War Room”). That makes it one of the lowest weekend openings ever for a film that played so widely.

“August can be a land of opportunity or it can be your worst nightmare,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office firm Rentrak.

Whereas “We Are Your Friends” got lost in the shuffle of a traditionally quiet period for the movie business, Dergarabedian said, “War Room” used its late-summer, little-competition release date to its advantage. “War Room,” Dergarabedian said, further proves the box-office strength of faith-based moviegoers: “They are looking for content. If you build it, they will come.”

“No Escape,” the Thailand thriller starring Owen Wilson and Lake Bell, opened with $8.3 million for the Weinstein Co.

In its fifth weekend, Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” earned $8.3 million to bring its North American total to $170.4 million.

With another low-key weekend looming over Labor Day, Hollywood’s summer is slowing to a crawl. Overall business on the weekend was down 21.4 percent from last year, according to Rentrak.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday:

1. “Straight Outta Compton,” $13.2 million.

2. “War Room,” $11 million.

3. “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” $8.3 million.

4. “No Escape,” $8.3 million.

5. “Sinister 2,” $4.7 million.

6. “Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” $4.4 million.

7. “Hitman: Agent 47,” $3.9 million.

8. “The Gift,” $3.1 million.

9. “Jurassic World,” $3.1 million.

10. “Ant-Man,” $3.1 million.

TIME Malaysia

Malaysian Prime Minister Slams Protests Demanding He Resign

Protesters say they want a "new Malaysia"

(KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia) — Embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak poured scorn Sunday on a huge two-day rally that brought together tens of thousands of yellow-shirted protesters demanding his resignation over a financial scandal.

Large crowd of protesters camped overnight on the streets of Kuala Lumpur wearing yellow shirts of the Bersih movement — a coalition for clean and fair elections — even after authorities blocked the organizer’s website and banned yellow attire and the group’s logo.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has been spearheading calls for Najib’s resignation, appeared at the rally with his wife for a second day, telling protesters that people power was needed to remove Najib and return the rule of law.

Najib has been fighting for political survival after leaked documents in July showed he received some $700 million in his private accounts from entities linked to indebted state fund 1MDB. He later said the money was a donation from the Middle East, fired his critical deputy and four other Cabinet members as well as the attorney general investigating him.

Police estimated the crowd size at 35,000, but Bersih says it swelled to 300,000 on Sunday from 200,000 on Saturday.

Najibhas slammed the protests for tarnishing Malaysia’s image, and dismissed their size.

“What is 20,000? We can gather hundreds of thousands,” he was quoted as saying by local media at a rural event in a northern state. “The rest of the Malaysian population is with the government.”

In his National Day message late Sunday, Najib said the government rejected street protests, saying they can disrupt public order and not the right way to show unhappiness in a democratic country.

They “reflected a shallow mind and poor national spirit,” he said.

Najib also vowed not to bow to pressure. “Once the sails have been set, once the anchor has been raised, the captain and his crew would never change course,” he said.

The rally was peaceful Saturday and was scheduled to last until midnight Sunday to usher in Malaysia’s 58th National Day.

“This is a watershed moment. Malaysians are united in their anger at the mismanagement of this country. We are saying loudly that there should be a change in the leadership,” said protester Azrul Khalib, who slept on the street with his friends.

He said he was aware that the rally will not bring change overnight, but he wants to be “part of efforts to build a new Malaysia.”

Some used colored chalk to scrawl their demands on the street, writing slogans such as, “We want change,” and “We want clean and fair (elections).”

Scores of police barricaded roads leading to the Independence Square, a national landmark that authorities declared off-limits to protesters. Previous two Bersih rallies, in 2011 and 2012, were dispersed by police using tear gas and water cannons.

Analysts said the rally attracted a largely urban crowd with a smaller participation of ethnic Malays, which could be the reason why the Najib government allowed it to go on.

“They feel safe because it has not really affected the rural Malay segment, their bedrock support,” said political analyst Ibrahim Suffian. However, he said this doesn’t mean that rural Malays are happy with the government, as many are upset with the plunging currency and economic slowdown.

A nation of 30 million, Malaysia is predominantly Malay Muslim with significant Chinese and Indian minorities. Its ambitions to rise from a middle income to a developed nation this decade have been stymied by slow-paced reforms and Najib’s increasing authoritarianism.

Support for Najib’s National Front has eroded in the last two general elections. It won in 2013, but lost the popular vote for the first time to an opposition alliance.

Concerns over the political scandal partly contributed to the Malaysian currency plunging to a 17-year low beyond 4 ringgit to the dollar earlier this month.

In his speech, Najib rejected fears that the economy is crumbling. “It is clearly proven that Malaysia is not a failed state, as alleged, nor is it about to become bankrupt,” he said. “On the contrary, the fact is we are stable, with strong fundamentals and will continue to survive and remain competitive.”

Apart from Najib’s resignation, the demands being sought are institutional reforms that will make the government more transparent and accountable.

 

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