09/03/2004, 00.00
MALAYSIA

A free Anwar still calls for reforms

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – "Thank God it's over," said former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. "I have to give credit to the new prime minister for not interfering with the judiciary [. . .] I appeal to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi to make the necessary reforms," Mr Anwar said before a crowd of 600 or so boisterous and electrified supporters who had waited for him to leave the Palace of Justice. Yesterday, the Federal Court had freed him overturning his sodomy conviction in the sixth of the nine year sentence.

Many domestic and foreign observers had seen in Anwar's conviction an attempt by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed to remove a leader with fundamentalist leanings from the political scene. However, Mahathir has denied having conspired against his former deputy. "My conscience is clear," the former Prime Minister said. "As far as I am concerned, [. . .] what I know is right. I still believe he's guilty."

On his release, Mr Anwar reiterated the claim that his conviction had been "highly politically motivated" but said that he was not out for vengeance. "I feel vindicated. This is all about justice."

The judgement was greeted with approval throughout the country. A large crowd gathered in front of Anwar's residence tonight. A man once considered a political prisoner, a man against whose incarceration people protested, now had tapes of his speeches sold on Kuala Lumpur streets.

"I wanted to see this moment so much. Finally, I now can return to the role I love best – being a wife and a mother," said Anwar's wife Azizah Ismail, who entered politics after her husband's arrest as the leader of the National Justice Party.

"It is a decision of the court and as such we respect it," Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi said about Anwar's release. Malaysia's Prime Minister added that should Mr Anwar need it, the government would provide him with a passport to travel to Germany for medical treatment for the injuries he suffered in prison.

The court's decision could be a defining moment in Mr Abdullah's leadership. When he came to power a year ago, he ran on an agenda of tolerance and a pledge to fight corruption. But Mr Anwar's detention and treatment had belied Malaysia's reputation as a beacon where Islam and modernity could coexist. Many observers believe that should the Mr Abdullah be able to carry out his reforms the country could be set for a new beginning.

In the second half of the 1990s, Mr Anwar was Mahathir's deputy prime minister and a backer of reforms. Charismatic, he sought to modernise Malaysia whilst keeping close ties with the Muslim community, including its more fundamentalist segments. His supporters hope that he might make a political comeback even though his role might not be as prominent as before. (MA)

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