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August 29, 2008

Malaysia’s power struggle:
Anwar clashes with govt upon return to parliament
Authorities block website critical of government

Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim rejoined parliament on Thursday after a 10-year absence and immediately clashed with the government he aims to oust, leading an opposition walkout, reported Reuters.

Anwar, once the protege of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, was forced from office in 1998 on corruption and sodomy charges he says were part of a conspiracy to ruin his career.

"I feel vindicated. I feel great that I am back," Anwar told reporters after he was sworn-in and appointed opposition leader, the day before the government unveils its 2009 budget that is widely expected to contain populist spending measures.

Ten years since he was last in parliament, Anwar is being backed by the biggest number of opposition MPs in Malaysia's history in his quest to oust the Barisan Nasional coalition that has ruled the country for the past 50 years.

At the same time Anwar must fight new sodomy charges, which he says are politically motivated.

He clashed with the government over a bill that will require suspects in criminal cases to submit DNA samples -- a measure he fears could be used against him after he refused to give DNA in the new sodomy case, arguing it could be tampered with.

Anwar led a walkout of opposition MPs and the bill was passed at the second reading by the government MPs, making its passage into law a formality.

"We staged a walkout, there is no point in staying in and participating. This is very disappointing, the government remains in a state of denial," Anwar told reporters.

All homosexual sex is illegal in Malaysia, a mainly Muslim nation of 27 million people.

If the new sodomy prosecution is successful, Anwar could get 20 years in jail, effectively ending the 61-year-old's political career. Even if he is not found guilty, months in court could overshadow his push for power.

Although Anwar is a respected former finance minister, his move on power after the opposition's surprisingly strong showing in a March general election has rattled Malaysian financial markets due to fears of a period of prolonged uncertainty.

In a related story, the Associated Press reported that Malaysian authorities have blocked access to a popular news Web site that has often run afoul of authorities for its sensational political reporting, sparking complaints Thursday that the government has reneged on its pledge to keep cyberspace uncensored.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, the government's industry regulator, ordered local Internet service providers on Wednesday to cut off access to the Malaysia Today site, said a commission official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The site was deemed to have broken the law, the official said, adding that the commission would issue a formal statement with details later.

The site - which remains accessible through an alternate link - is run by one of Malaysia's feistiest online commentators, Raja Petra Raja Kamarudin, who has published numerous claims about alleged wrongdoing by government leaders.

Raja Petra was charged with sedition in May for allegedly implying the deputy prime minister was involved in the killing of a young Mongolian woman, and his trial begins in October.

Government officials have repeatedly accused him of spreading malicious falsehoods.

"Blocking my site is a move by a desperate government that is trying to silence me, but it's not going to stop me," Raja Petra told The Associated Press. "It only reveals that the government does not know how to handle the Internet."

Officials at the Ministry of Energy, Water and Communications, which is responsible for Internet issues, declined to comment.

The crackdown on Malaysia Today drew criticism from bloggers and journalists who accused authorities of seeking to deter dissent.

Wong Chun Wai, group chief editor of The Star newspaper, Malaysia's leading English daily, said the order to block Raja Petra's site was "myopic and ridiculous" and clashed with the government's promise not to censor the Internet.

"If it can happen to (Raja Petra), it can also happen to other bloggers," Wong wrote on his blog. "In a democracy, we don't have to agree with each other but we must defend the right of everyone to speak up - including (Raja Petra) and other voices of dissent.

"Some of Malaysia's most popular Web sites and blogs offer fiercely anti-government commentaries, presenting themselves as an alternative to mainstream media, which are controlled by ruling political parties or closely linked to them.

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