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Pressure mounts on PM Abdullah as security arrests backfire

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September 16, 2008

Malaysia Power Struggle:
Pressure mounts on PM Abdullah as security arrests backfire

Malaysia's government was hit with a storm of protest Monday over a series of arrests under tough security laws, a move the opposition said was aimed at preventing it from seizing power, AFP reported.

A Cabinet minister who criticised the arrests offered his resignation, highlighting disarray in the Barisan Nasional coalition since opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim threatened to form a new administration with defecting lawmakers.

Anwar has set a Tuesday deadline to topple the coalition, but said over the weekend that although he has enough support for a takeover, the parliamentary coup could be delayed in order to preserve national stability.

Minister Zaid Ibrahim, who is in charge of legal affairs, led an eruption of criticism from within the Cabinet over Saturday's arrests of an opposition politician, a leading blogger, and a reporter for a Chinese-language daily.

Zaid offered his resignation, saying the government was wrong to use the Internal Security Act (ISA), a legacy of the British colonial era which allows for indefinite detention without trial.

"The ISA is open to abuse. If we cannot be fair in implementing it, then we should confine its use to terrorists," Zaid said according to the New Straits Times.

The New Straits Times said on its website that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi did not accept the resignation, and asked Zaid to take some time to reconsider.

The ISA arrests triggered fears that the government was planning a wider crackdown on dissent to crush Anwar's ambitions, but the quick release of the journalist on Sunday eased fears of a national crisis.

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar defended the detentions but said it was a police operation and not his idea -- comments ridiculed by the opposition which said he and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi were accountable.

Abdullah must explain whether the crackdown was rolled out "in order to protect his position as prime minister now that he is under attack," opposition veteran Lim Kit Siang told a press conference.

Lim said it appeared deputy premier Najib Razak and Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin were "teaming up" to challenge Abdullah, who has faced repeated calls to quit since a drubbing in March general elections.

Abdullah had announced a plan to hand over to Najib in mid-2010 but both the deputy premier and trade minister have drawn question marks over the plan.

In a rare breaking of ranks, six ministers criticised the ISA arrests, and
several welcomed the quick release of the journalist, who had merely reported
racist remarks made by a ruling party lawmaker.

Opposition lawmaker Teresa Kok, from the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party which is a member of the opposition alliance, was also arrested over allegations she complained about the noise of morning prayers at a mosque. She has said the accusation was "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 Najib and his wife to the sensational murder of a Mongolian woman.

Anwar, a former deputy premier who was sacked and jailed a decade ago, will later Monday address a mass rally at a Kuala Lumpur stadium, at which he is expected to elaborate on his plans to take power.

The political uncertainty has paralysed investment in recent months, and depressed trading on the stock market which dropped 2.5 per cent over last week, and another 2.1 percent Monday as Anwar's takeover deadline loomed.

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