/ 30 June 2008

Malaysia’s Anwar plans to leave Turkish embassy

Malaysia’s main opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said on Monday he would soon leave the Turkish embassy where he took refuge following sodomy accusations against him — the latest lurch in Malaysia’s political storm.

The former deputy premier told Reuters in a telephone interview that he would leave the embassy by Monday evening. He said he did not seek political asylum, but went there on ”humanitarian grounds”.

”We are still waiting,” said Anwar as his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail sought a meeting with Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to personally guarantee his safety. ”Wan Azizah is trying to see the PM,” Anwar said.

Anwar said in the interview the allegation he committed sodomy with a young aide was probably a ploy to distract public attention from rising food and fuel prices and other scandals afflicting Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s government.

Prime Minister Abdullah said the government had nothing at all to do with instigating the case against Anwar.

Anwar said he feared for his life when he fled to Turkey’s embassy at the weekend in a political drama that has echoes of the country’s worst political crisis 10 years ago.

His lawyers filed a defamation suit against the aide, who was taken to hospital on Sunday for examination.

Eligible for office
Foreign Minister Rais Yatim, who complained Turkey had interfered in Malaysia’s internal affairs, summoned the Turkish ambassador, who promised Anwar would leave as soon as possible.

The sodomy allegations emerged two months after Anwar was eligible again to hold political office after being jailed a decade ago for sodomy and corruption. Sodomy is an abhorrent crime in Malaysia, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The former deputy premier says he has been engineering defections aimed at overturning Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s majority in Parliament at a time when Abdullah was facing pressures from his own party to step down.

He said in the interview the sodomy allegations pre-empted his plan to announce this week that he was running for a seat in Parliament through a by-election, and that four ruling coalition lawmakers would be defecting to the opposition coalition.

”The whole government was at stake,” he said. ”Four MPs already cleared with me.”

Political tensions have risen sharply in Malaysia since polls on March 8 that dealt Prime Minister Abdullah’s National Front coalition its worst electoral setback amid voter discontent over rising prices and corruption. The Front lost power in five of Malaysia’s 13 states as well as its traditional two-thirds majority in Parliament.

Financial markets were closely watching the saga.

”It probably adds to political uncertainty that is clouding the outlook for Malaysia — one more factor that might pump investors to avoid the Malaysian market, as if there weren’t enough things to worry about that are clouding markets worldwide,” said David Cohen of Singapore-based Action Economics.

Malaysian Second Finance Minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop played down those concerns. ”At the end of the day, what matters is the economic fundamentals despite the challenges,” he told reporters. ”I am confident we will do very well.”

Death threats
Anwar (60) went to the Turkish embassy in a Kuala Lumpur suburb on Sunday morning, 12 hours after the accusations surfaced, saying he had received death threats. Neither Anwar nor his party have elaborated on those threats.

Home Interior Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Anwar’s life was not in any danger. ”He should be able to discern between reality and play-acting,” he told reporters at Parliament. Anwar was sacked as deputy prime minister in 1998 in the midst of the Asian financial crisis after leading a ”reformasi” [reform] movement against then premier Mahathir Mohamad. He was then jailed for sodomy and corruption. The Supreme Court overturned the sodomy conviction in 2004.

He became eligible again to seek political office again on April 14, after the expiry of a five year-ban on holding office over the corruption conviction.

Anwar’s sacking in 1998 brought tens of thousands on to the streets. Police have warned Anwar’s supporters against holding any public protests and Anwar himself has called for restraint. – Reuters