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Malaysian rally to protest election "fraud" draws big crowd

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - At least 40,000 supporters of Malaysia's opposition held a rally near Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday to protest alleged vote fraud, with its leader Anwar Ibrahim vowing to the crowds he would expose the cheating he says cost them an election win.

Anwar called the rally to press his case for what he says is evidence of widespread fraud in Sunday's election that handed victory, with a weakened parliamentary majority, to the long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

"This is merely the beginning of the battle between the people and an illegitimate, corrupt and arrogant government," the 65-year-old former deputy prime minister told the large crowd, many of whom wore black to symbolize mourning.

"We will continue this struggle and we will never surrender."

Malaysia's government earlier accused Anwar of "fomenting division" and planning to cause unrest at the rally in a sports stadium. There were no reports of violence and the police presence appeared to be thin.

The tens of thousands of supporters -- many of them blowing horns and shouting "reformasi" (reform) -- came despite rain, tough traffic conditions and a police warning that the opposition had not acquired the necessary permission.

Anwar has vowed to lead a "fierce movement" to reform the country's electoral system and challenge the results of the election, although he is unlikely to gain much traction in any attempt to overturn the result.

A civil society movement devoted to electoral reform has held large street rallies in Kuala Lumpur in recent years that have ended in violent clashes with police.

Anwar told Reuters on Tuesday that the rally would be a first step to explain the opposition's case that it had been cheated out of its first election victory.

"We've seen a groundswell but that only translated into the election being stolen by the ruling clique. But now what we need to do is to explain and let the people take it up from there," he said.

The opposition alliance won 89 seats in parliament compared to the ruling coalition's 133, despite Barisan losing the popular vote for the first time in 44 years, underlining opposition complaints that the electoral system is stacked against it.

Anwar said the opposition had identified more than 30 constituencies out of a total 222 where the result was suspicious and would present proof in the coming weeks.

The country's Election Commission, which is a unit of the prime minister's office and has been criticized by the opposition and civil society groups as biased, is unlikely to investigate Anwar's charges.

(Reporting by Stuart Grudgings and Siva Sithraputhran; Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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