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Govt crackdown seen as desperate move to survive

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Politics takes the centre stage

September 14, 2008

Malaysia Power Struggle:
Govt crackdown seen as desperate move to survive  

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Saturday led demands for the government to end a crackdown that saw the arrests of an opposition politician, a blogger and a journalist, AFP reported.

The arrests on Friday under tough internal security laws raised fears that the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition will launch a widespread campaign against dissent as it faces an opposition bid to seize power within days.

Rights groups have condemned the use of the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for indefinite detention without trial, and the United States summoned Malaysia's top envoy in Washington in protest.

Anwar, who is trying to sign up enough defecting lawmakers to topple the government, said it was running scared after March general elections that handed his opposition alliance unprecedented gains.

"Instead of pursuing a reform agenda it has chosen to burn the country to save itself and to maintain its odious grip on power," he said in a statement.

The three arrested have been accused of inciting ethnic tensions in the multicultural country, but Anwar accused the government of stirring up a phony racial crisis in order to deflect attention from its own problems.

"We ask the government how far it is willing to go to usurp justice and destroy the institutions of good governance in its attempt to drive the Malaysian people against each other?"

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar denied the arrests were aimed at suppressing dissent and said the police had moved to secure public order as tensions rose and people
started to hoard food.

"This country is multiracial and their relations can be fragile," he told a press conference.

"If the police feel public order is under threat or possible conflict could occur in the country, they will take preventive action."

The arrest drew rare condemnation from the Malaysian Chinese Association, the second-largest political party in the Barisan Nasional, which said the ISA may need to be abolished.

Syed Hamid meanwhile welcomed former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad's decision to rejoin UMNO as it would strengthen the party.

"It will restore unity which is the key to the strength of the Malays and Muslims," he told reporters at a breaking of fast with police personnel and orphans at the police quarters in Kuala Lumpur Friday night.

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