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Govt cracks down on dissidents amidst opposition threat

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September 13, 2008

Malaysia power struggle:
Govt cracks down on dissidents amidst opposition threat

Malaysian authorities arrested a prominent blogger, an opposition lawmaker and a journalist Friday under a security law in a crackdown amid heightened racial tensions and the opposition's threat to seize power soon, Kyodo news reported.

Raja Petra Kamaruddin, 58, the maverick editor of the popular news portal "Malaysia Today," was detained under the Internal Security Act for being deemed a threat to security, peace and public order, the Star daily quoted Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar as saying in its online edition.

The law allows him to be detained for 60 days, and the detention period may be renewed indefinitely without a trial.

His wife Marina Lee Abdullah told Kyodo News that police picked him up from their house on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur around 1 p.m. and confiscated some documents and CDs.

Hours later, the official news agency Bernama quoted deputy federal police chief Ismail Omar as confirming the arrest of Teresa Kok, a lawmaker from the opposition Democratic Action Party, and Tan Hoon Cheng, a journalist with the Chinese-language Sin Chew Daily News, under the Internal Security Act.

It is not clear why Kok was arrested. Tan was held for her news report about a racial slur uttered by Ahmad Ismail, a grassroots leader from the ruling United Malays National Organization.

Prior to arrest of Raja Petra, several religious groups had lodged police reports against him over some articles which allegedly ridiculed Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.

But Raja Petra has also greatly annoyed the ruling elite with his salacious but often unsubstantiated exposes on their alleged dirty dealings.

Home Minister Syed Hamid also confirmed that two mainstream newspapers -- the Sun English daily and the Chinese-language Sin Chew Jit Poh -- and Suara Keadilan, the mouthpiece of the opposition People's Justice Party (PKR), have been sent letters requesting them to explain their actions.

"They have been given a week to reply," he said.

The home minister said the Sun "manipulated and played up sensitive issues" while Sin Chew was picked out for its reports on a racial slur uttered by a grassroots leader from the ruling United Malays National Organization.

The party leader described the minority ethnic Chinese "immigrants squatting in this country" and likened them to "American Jews" for their control of the economy and politics.

The minister alleged Suara Keadilan issued a false report about the federal police chief.

The government is likely to draw further criticism for its moves against the blogger, the opposition lawmaker and the journalist as well as the newspapers.

Its move is likely to spark fears of the repeat of the 1987 massive crackdown by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in which 106 opposition figures were detained under the ISA and printing licenses for several newspapers were revoked.

Hours before her arrest, Kok had issued a statement condemning the use of the ISA against Raja Petra.

"The reaction of the government makes us wonder whether this is a prelude to a new 'Operasi Lalang 1987,'" said Kok.

This time, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's grip is under threat from within UMNO as well as from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is lobbying to unseat Abdullah by engineering defections of government lawmakers to his side.

"PKR views Raja Petra's arrest as a possible prelude to a wider impending crackdown.

This is the National Front's desperate response to the growing public expectation of a change in government that will end UMNO's corrupt mismanagement of the country," Anwar's wife and PKR President Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said in a statement.

The National Front is the 14-party ruling coalition, in which UMNO is the largest party.

Within UMNO, there have been loud calls for Abdullah to step down earlier than the June 2010 deadline that he had bargained for following the party's setbacks in the March election.

Earlier on Friday Malaysia’s opposition conceded it may not be able to take the reins of government by Tuesday, but it still dispatched five officials to Taiwan to make a last
ditch effort to persuade lawmakers from the ruling coalition there on a "study trip," to switch allegiances.

"The People's Alliance is confident of getting enough members of parliament to have a majority in Parliament in order to establish the new government," the three-party
People's Alliance said in a statement. "However, the earlier targeted date of September 16 had to be postponed because several members of parliament have been forced to
go to Taiwan."

About 50 lawmakers from the ruling National Front coalition flew to Taiwan on Monday on a hastily arranged "agricultural study trip" the opposition has derided as a "panic reaction" from a leadership doubting their loyalty.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been lobbying coalition lawmakers to change sides and has publicly claimed he has the numbers needed to topple the coalition government.

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