A group of protesters are camping overnight in central Kuala Lumpur to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has weathered public outrage over a multimillion dollar payment made to a bank account under his name.
Earlier on Saturday, over 50,000 protesters, dressed in yellow T-shirts, had gathered at five designated areas in the Malaysian capital as part of a two-day rally organised by the activist group, Bersih. The group is calling for Najib to step down and for a series of institutional reforms they say would make the government more transparent and accountable.
Al Jazeera's Karishma Vyas, reporting from Kuala Lumpur, said organisers were prepared for a 34-hour protest they said would end on Sunday evening.
With the country's 58th National Day celebrations scheduled to take place on Monday, security was tight around the city, raising the spectre of potential clashes between security forces and protesters.
Scores of riot police sealed off roads leading to the square, which authorities have said is off-limits to protesters.
Two previous rallies, in 2011 and 2012, were dispersed by police using tear gas and water cannon.
RELATED: Malaysian crackdown on freedom
On Thursday, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) said in a post on its Facebook page that it would block websites that "promote, spread information and encourage people to participate" in the protest organised by the civil society group Bersih.
Bersih organisers are expecting this year's rally to be the largest in its nine-year history because of widespread dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Najib Razak.
There is a growing perception of corruption, and a lack of transparency and accountability plaguing the government.
While the prime minister denies any wrongdoing, the influential middle class in Malaysia is becoming frustrated by endless controversies involving the government and the declining state of the economy.
The director of independent pollster Merdeka Center, Ibrahim Suffian, said discontent with Najib, who took office in 2009, is concentrated in urban areas, and a national survey this month showed a slight majority were opposed to the rally.
The 62-year-old leader ran into trouble in July when it was reported that investigators looking into alleged mismanagement at debt-laden state fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), traced a payment of more than $600m to an account under his name.
Malaysia's anti-graft agency has since verified the funds were a donation from the Middle East, which came just before a 2013 election. On August 3, it said it would ask Najib to explain why the donation was deposited into his private account.
The prime minister's fiercest critic, former leader Mahathir Mohamad, this week said he did not believe the money was a donation.
He also called for Najib to step down.
Najib, who has denied wrongdoing and says he did not take any money for personal gain, has not only ridden out the storm - he has tightened his grip on power through a series of deft steps to sideline would-be dissenters.
He sacked his deputy and other ministers who had publicly questioned him, and replaced the attorney general who was investigating 1MDB. Authorities suspended two newspapers and blocked access to a website that had reported on 1MDB.
Najib retains significant support from the long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition and from within his party, United Malays National Organisation.
The Eurasia Group consultancy said this week the movement would not topple the government and was unlikely to inspire broad public support because it lacked strong leadership from a credible opposition figure.
|A news portal said on Friday the army may intervene if the crowds get out of hand and a state of emergency is declared [Reuters]
|Protesters in yellow Bersih T-shirts and headbands converged at five locations and were marching to areas surrounding the landmark Independence Square [Reuters]
| The Malaysian PM has refused to resign and described the protesters as unpatriotic [Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies