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PM Abdullah said he might step down before 2010


September 18, 2008

Malaysia Power Struggle:
Opposition seeks outside help to release detainees

PM Abdullah said he might step down before 2010
Malaysia's opposition on Wednesday sought international help to push for the release of a politician and others held without trial under the country's internal security law, reported AFP.

Teresa Kok, from the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a member of the opposition alliance, was arrested last week along with Malaysia's top blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin and detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

A journalist for a Chinese-language newspaper was also arrested after reporting on racist comments made by a ruling party member, but was released after an uproar including from within the government.

"We will seek international and regional support from parliamentarians for the immediate release of Teresa Kok and all other ISA detainees, and for the repeal of the Internal Security Act," said DAP member Lim Kit Siang.

He said the newly-formed "Free Teresa and Abolish ISA Caucus" of opposition lawmakers would contact Commonwealth and Southeast Asian parliamentary bodies to ask for their support in pressuring the government.

Zaid Ibrahim, a cabinet minister in charge of legal affairs who resigned on Monday over the crackdown, was also present at the launch in parliament on Wednesday.

Rights groups say about 63 people, mainly alleged Islamic militants, are thought to be held under the ISA, which dates back to the British colonial era, when it was used against communist insurgents.

The legislation provides for two-year periods of detention that can be renewed indefinitely. However, critics say it has been improperly used by the government to silence its critics.

Meanwhile Malaysia's prime minister, facing a resurgent opposition and rebellious colleagues in the ruling party, said Wednesday he may hand over power to his deputy before the 2010 deadline he set earlier, the Associated Press reported.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi also said he handed over his finance ministry portfolio to his deputy Najib Razak on Wednesday. Abdullah will take the less important defense ministry from Najib.

The announcement comes amid calls by dissidents for him to retire early after he led the ruling National Front coalition to its worst ever election results in the 51 years it has been in power since independence in 1957.

The Front won a simple majority of 140 seats in the 222-member Parliament in the March 8 elections, sliding from a two-thirds majority it had enjoyed for decades. The Front also lost control of five of Malaysia's 13 states to opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's People's Alliance coalition.

Anwar claims he is now on the verge of toppling the government through parliamentary defections. He says he has pledges of support from more than 31 National Front lawmakers ready to defect to the People's Alliance.

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