Speaking in a public address to mark Malaysia’s National Day, PM Najib Razak said he refuses to resign after mass protests, calling for national unity.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets at the weekend, urging the prime minister to step down over allegations he took hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds.
Najib Razak said such protests were “not the proper channel to voice opinions in a democratic country”.
He has denied pocketing $700 million of public money.
The payments, first revealed by the Wall Street Journal, came from the 1MDB state investment fund, which Najib Razak set up on coming into office in 2009.
Najib Razak has removed several leading officials who had criticized his handling of the scandal.
Malaysia’s anti-corruption agency has effectively cleared the prime minister, saying the money was from foreign donors.
Police says about 25,000 people took part in the two-day demonstration at their peak, though Bersih [Clean] – the pro-democracy group behind the rallies – put the figure at 300,000.
During his National Day speech, Najib Razak said it was clear the rest of Malaysia backed the government.
“We will never allow anyone from within or from outside, [to] simply walk in and steal, ruin or destroy all that we have built so far,” the state news agency Bernama quoted the prime minister as saying.
“Let us all remember, if we are not united, lose our solidarity and cohesion, all problems will not be resolved, and everything we have laboriously built will be destroyed just like that.”
Najib Razak said protests which “disrupt public order and only inconvenience the people” did not reflect maturity and were “not the proper channel to voice opinions in a democratic country”.
His coalition, Barisan Nasional, has governed Malaysia since independence 58 years ago.
However, the coalition’s support has declined in recent elections, and its critics have accused it of arrogance.
The movement against Najib Razak has been driven by influential former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed who was also at the rally in Kuala Lumpur on August 30.
Mahathir Mohamed, who led Malaysia from 1981 to 2003 and was formerly a Najib razak ally, said it was untenable for him to continue in his position.
“There’s no more rule of law. The only way for the people to get back to the old system is for them to remove this prime minister,” he said.
“We must remove this prime minister.”
The rally in Kuala Lumpur was deemed illegal, but was allowed to go ahead, and ended peacefully late on Sunday.
Previous rallies held by the Bersih movement have been dispersed by police using tear gas and water cannon.