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Wednesday, October 28, 1998 Published at 16:41 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

World to watch Anwar trial

Anwar's arrest sparked street protests in Malaysia

By Asia Analyst Alice Donald

The stage is set for the trial of Malaysia's former deputy prime minister after an appeal to have the case thrown out failed.

High Court Judge Abdul Wahab Patail said the move calling for Anwar Ibrahim's release was "incredible".

[ image: Anwar fears for a fair trial]
Anwar fears for a fair trial
The language used by the judge was scathing in the extreme.

He said Mr Anwar's claim that he would not get a fair trial because of a high-level government conspiracy against him was scandalous.

It was as absurd, he said, as being told that an alien spaceship had landed in Kuala Lumpur's famous Merdeka Square.

The judge said Mr Anwar's petition for a writ of habeas corpus was frivolous and wrong because it related to his original detention under the Internal Security Act, the ISA.

He pointed out that Mr Anwar had since been released from the ISA and moved to an ordinary prison.

Eyes of the world

One of Mr Anwar's lawyers said they had pursued the appeal because they want an explanation of why the draconian act - which allows for detention without trial - had been used against him in the first place.

Mr Anwar, who has pleaded not guilty to the 10 corruption and sexual misconduct charges he faces, insists that his release from detention under the controversial ISA is a gimmick to blunt the edge of international criticism.

World attention will be focused on Malaysia during the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Kuala Lumpur next month.

The prestigious event, like the recent Commonwealth Games, is likely to become a backdrop for the opposition to voice its demand for sweeping political reforms.

Street protests

Mr Anwar's detention has not silenced him as the government must have hoped.

Instead, in statements issued through his wife, Mr Anwar has repeatedly called for Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to step down.

Those calls have been echoed by Malaysia's burgeoning opposition movement in regular street protests.

If Mr Anwar's trial, which is due to start on 2 November, is perceived within Malaysia or abroad to be a show trial, or the sentence is viewed as unduly harsh, then pressure on the government is bound to grow.

The decision to turn down Mr Anwar's appeal has no legal bearing on the trial process.

But the uncompromising language used by the judge will do little to calm the political atmosphere in Kuala Lumpur.

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28 Oct 98 | Asia-Pacific
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