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Malaysian opposition chief arrested in sodomy case
Malaysia Anwar XVT1 5110263
Supporters of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim hold placards outside the police headquarters where Anwar is being held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday, July 16, 2008. Malaysian police arrested Anwar on Wednesday on suspicion that he sodomized a male aide, pre-empting his voluntary appearance at the police headquarters to answer the allegation. - photo by Associated Press
    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Police arrested Malaysia’s leading opposition figure on Wednesday on suspicion that he sodomized a male aide — the second time in a decade he has faced the accusation that could send him to jail for 20 years and hobble his campaign to bring down the country’s government.
    Anwar Ibrahim, 61, dismissed the accusation — made last month by the 23-year-old aide — as a ‘‘malicious’’ fabrication by the same ruling establishment that jailed him for sodomy and corruption in 1998.
    ‘‘This is not a criminal case but a political case,’’ said Azmin Ali, vice president of Anwar’s People’s Justice Party.
    The arrest will give some breathing space to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s government, which is struggling to cope with internal dissent after recent election losses, and threats by Anwar to seize power by mid-September. Abdullah’s administration has denied any role in the sodomy allegation against Anwar, the only Malaysian politician to face the accusation.
    Sodomy, even between consenting adults, is punishable by up to 20 years in prison in Malaysia.
    His lawyers said he will remain in detention at least overnight and possibly longer.
    ‘‘The excuse is that they need to take further statements’’ from Anwar, said Sankara Nair, one of his lawyers.
    Anwar had agreed to voluntarily submit himself for questioning at police headquarters Wednesday, but was arrested outside his house an hour before the designated time by a posse of policemen, some wearing ski masks.
    ‘‘There was a lot of fear and intimidation. It was absolutely unnecessary,’’ said Nair, who witnessed the arrest.
    Anwar was pulled out of his car as he returned home from an engagement and was driven to the police headquarters in a car with tinted windows.
    Nair said Anwar was arrested as a suspect for the alleged sodomy of the male aide. Anwar can be held as a suspect for up to 14 days without being charged.
    The sodomy allegation revived images of a similar ordeal in 1998 when Anwar was fired as deputy prime minister and finance minister after being accused of sodomizing his family driver.
    Anwar, who at the time was part of the ruling National Front coalition, was subsequently convicted and jailed in what he says was a conspiracy by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to win a power struggle. Anwar’s downfall led to massive street protests by his supporters for weeks.
    Malaysia’s Supreme Court later overturned the conviction, but by then Anwar had served six years in prison on a related abuse of power charge. He was freed in 2004, reviving his political career as an opposition leader.
    For the past year, Anwar worked tirelessly to bring the ideologically divided opposition into an alliance that recently shook up the National Front coalition that has ruled the country since it gained independence from Britain in 1957.
    In March, the Front lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament as the opposition alliance won 82 of the 222 seats and took control of governments in five of Malaysia’s 13 states. The outcome radically changed the political landscape of a country long accustomed to semi-authoritarian government.
    Anwar’s arrest, at a time he was threatening to bring down the government with defections, seemed certain to exacerbate the political divisions and tensions that have been running high in Malaysia since the elections.
    As news of the arrest spread, scores of supporters, including opposition lawmakers and his wife, Azizah Ismail, gathered outside the police headquarters. After eight hours of interrogation, Anwar was taken to a hospital for a medical examination before being brought back to the headquarters. No DNA testing was done.
    Meanwhile, about 200 supporters milled around peacefully on sidewalks and on the main street, which was closed to traffic, while a heavy police presence including water cannons kept a close watch. There was no violence, but one woman was seen being dragged away for insulting the police. Some people held aloft lit candles.
    Anwar’s wife said Anwar told her in a telephone conversation that police were ‘‘not gentle’’ with him.
    Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar said the police had acted within the law while Criminal Investigation Department chief Mohamad Bakri Zinin said in a statement that Anwar was ‘‘safe under police custody.’’
    U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia James Keith said in a statement that the arrest of a prominent opposition figure, ‘‘raises serious questions and concerns.’’
    Associated Press writers Sean Yoong, Eileen Ng and Julia Zappei contributed to this report.

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