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February 7, 2009

Malaysia: State ‘power grab’ triggers opposition protests
Opposition supporters clashed with police Friday in northern Malaysia's Perak state in an attempt to halt the swearing in ceremony of a new government under the ruling National Front (BN) coalition, which wrested control of the state from the opposition.

Kyodo news agency quoted witnesses at the scene as saying that the police fired several rounds of tear gas at thousands of protestors after they breached the security barricade thrown around the Perak royal palace, where the new state chief minister, Zambry Abdul Kadir, took his oath of office.

Zambry's appointment was the result of the defections of four opposition lawmakers.

One joined BN, while the other three became "friendly independents," thus giving BN a slim majority in the 59-seat state assembly. Perak had been one of the five states won by the three-party opposition alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim in the March general election.

The opposition, which themselves tried but failed to topple the federal government last year through the same tactic, slammed BN for what they called an "illegal and unconstitutional" power grab.

The opposition had earlier appealed to the Sultan to resolve the political impasse by consenting to the dissolution of the state assembly and calling a fresh election, but the Sultan rejected the move.

They are now threatening to sue the Sultan and BN. "In law, the decision of the Sultan of Perak can be questioned in a court of law," said Karpal Singh from the opposition Democratic Action Party.

Anwar, who heads the People's Justice Party, said they would also go to court to challenge the legality of Zambry's appointment. While legal experts are debating the constitutional rights and wrongs of the Sultan's move, all the 28 opposition lawmakers boycotted the swearing-in ceremony.

Angry supporters outside were reported to have thrown stones and bottles at several passing cars carrying BN leaders to the Palace. At least nine protesters were arrested by the police.

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