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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Malaysian Opposition Leader Anwar Arrested


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was arrested on Wednesday (July 16), police said, over sodomy allegations that he sodomised a male aide which threaten to thwart his plan to seize power.

Anwar's wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said she feared for his safety, after the events of a decade ago when he was sacked as deputy premier, beaten up by the police chief, and jailed for six years on sodomy and corruption charges.

"My concern is for my husband's safety and we want access to see him," said Wan Azizah, a parliamentarian whose Keadilan party leads a three-member opposition alliance.

"I feel apprehensive because my husband is 10 years down the road, he is not that well, he has a bad back, he's had surgery and from a brief conversation, he said they (police) were not gentle," she said.

Earlier Wednesday Anwar dismissed the accusations as a conspiracy to prevent him from seizing power, and said it was a re-run of past events when he was slapped with charges widely seen as politically motivated.

"There's no basis for this whole fabrication and malicious attacks. It is just a repeat of the 1998 script. You can see the pattern," he told reporters. "I will challenge them on every ground."

His lawyer Sankara Nair said he was with the opposition leader in a vehicle approaching his home when a team of special forces police surrounded the car.

"The manner in which they surrounded our vehicle, it put a lot of fear and intimidation into us," he said, criticising authorities for pouncing just an hour before Anwar was due to appear at police headquarters for questioning.

Deputy national police chief Ismail Omar confirmed Anwar had been arrested, saying he was a suspect in the sodomy case and would undergo a medical examination.

"He is not being charged with anything yet, don't jump to conclusions," Ismail told AFP.

"We have to record his statement to complete our investigations," he said. "Once the facts are in we can make a decision."

Police can detain him for 24 hours after which they must apply for a court order that would allow them to keep him for up to 14 days without charge.

It was not clear why Anwar was taken into custody even though he had agreed to be questioned over assault allegations levelled by Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a 23-year-old who was a volunteer in his office.

Sodomy, even between consenting adults, is illegal in predominantly Muslim Malaysia and carries a penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment.

The charges threaten to derail Anwar's political comeback, and his plans to oust the government with the help of defecting lawmakers, after landmark March elections that handed the opposition unprecedented gains.

Keadilan issued an immediate call for its supporters to rally outside the Kuala Lumpur police headquarters where Anwar was taken, but said they would remain cautious as they feared more arrests.

"There's a possibility that they would like to provoke so they can justify a much wider crackdown against the democratic movement in Malaysia," said the party's information chief Tian Chua.

The mood at the headquarters was tense, with up to 100 armed officers watching over about 200 protesters.

Anwar's 1998 downfall, during the Asian financial crisis which heightened his power struggle with then premier Mahathir Mohamad, triggered massive protests in a "Reformasi" or "Reform" movement that continues to reverberate.



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