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Mass rally to rock government

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Politics takes the centre stage


September 15, 2008

Malaysia: Power Struggle:
Mass rally to rock government

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's party Sunday announced a mass rally against a government crackdown which he says is aimed at preventing him from seizing power within days, reported AFP.

Anwar said on the weekend that he has enough support to pull off a parliamentary coup, but that the takeover slated for next Tuesday could be delayed by the series of arrests under tough internal security laws.

"The priority is political stability. It's not an issue of deferring, we have the numbers to move," he said, adding he was "mindful" that he too could be targeted with arrest.

Anwar, a former deputy premier who was sacked and jailed a decade ago, needs 30 lawmakers to defect if he is to topple the Barisan Nasional coalition which has ruled since independence from Britain half a century ago.

That prospect would have been unthinkable before March general elections, when his opposition alliance shocked the nation by denying the government its two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time.

Since then the coalition has been in disarray, and the arrests on Friday of an opposition politician, a prominent blogger and a journalist raised fears of a widespread campaign against dissent.

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

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," he said.

The opposition alliance said it expected some 30,000 supporters to gather for the rally at a suburban stadium on Monday night to call for the release of the two still detained, after the journalist was freed Saturday.

It will be held on the eve of September 16, Anwar's deadline to seize power and also the day in 1963 when the Borneo island states of Sabah and Sarawak joined together with Malaya to form modern Malaysia.

"We gained independence but Malaysians continue to live under repression. We believe Malaysia Day should symbolise freedom, justice and equality," said Tian Chua, information chief of Anwar's Keadilan party.

"The gathering at Kelana Jaya stadium is to express our solidarity for the two people held under the draconian security law and to demand their freedom," he told AFP.

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 over the arrests.

Opposition lawmaker Teresa Kok, from the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party which is a member of the opposition alliance, was arrested over allegations she complained about the noise of morning prayers at a mosque.

She has said the accusation is "preposterous".

The other detainee is Malaysia's leading blogger, 58-year-old Raja Petra Kamaruddin, who has repeatedly targeted government figures on his website "Malaysia Today".

He has already been charged with sedition and defamation after linking Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife to the sensational murder of a Mongolian woman.

Police quickly released Tan Hoon Cheng from the Chinese-language Sin Chew Daily News who had reported on an outburst from a ruling party member who called ethnic Chinese "squatters".

The politician was subsequently disciplined and the decision to target Tan caused widespread dismay and disbelief including from Chinese-based parties in the coalition.

Three Malaysian newspapers -- Tan's Sin Chew Daily News, The Sun, a free English-language daily, and Suara Keadilan, which is published by the opposition -- were also Friday threatened with suspension.

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