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Wednesday, 12 January, 2000, 12:44 GMT
Opposition figures arrested in Malaysia

Mahathir Mohamad Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad is on holiday

Malaysian police have arrested the lawyer of jailed finance minister Anwar Ibrahim and three others on charges of sedition, in an apparent crackdown on the opposition.

Prominent politician and lawyer Karpal Singh, who is a leader of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) but lost his seat in parliament in November's snap elections, was taken to a local police station, according to a party official.

Police declined to elaborate on the charge against him.

Earlier on Wednesday, police arrested three other opposition figures under the Sedition Act.

Inciting racial hatred

Marina Yusoff of Parti Keadilan Nasional (National Justice Party) is accused of inciting racial hatred in remarks made before general elections in November, the opposition party said in a statement.

Her remarks related to race riots that erupted in 1969.

The editor of the newspaper run by the conservative Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), Zulkifli Sulong, said both he and the holder of the newspaper's publishing permit were arrested separately on charges of sedition over an August 1999 article on the judiciary.

Mr Sulong said he was arrested on charges of sedition in a police station in the capital and that he would plead not guilty when he appeared at Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court on Thursday at 0100 GMT.

Opposition leaders denounced the arrests, which they said could mark the start of a campaign to stifle criticism of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's coalition and governing authorities.

Bitterly contested

"Apparently a policy decision has been taken for a crackdown," Lim Kit Siang, national chairman of the Democratic Action Party, told Reuters.

The arrests came two months after bitterly-contested general elections and on the day the prime minister left the country on a two-week holiday.

He left Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is also home minister responsible for police, in charge.

Asia's longest-serving elected leader, Dr Mahathir has been in power since 1981 and won an unprecedented fifth mandate in November's polls when his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition took three quarters of the seats in parliament.

Dr Mahathir's supporters credit him with modernising Malaysia. But his critics, foremost among them Mr Anwar, say his government has curbed civil liberties.

Mr Anwar's sacking in 1998 and subsequent arrest galvanised the disparate opposition, which in the recent polls made deep inroads into Dr Mahathir's United Malays National Organisation's base in the Moslem Malay electorate

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See also:
20 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Troubled start for Malaysian parliament
10 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Malaysia's strongman Mahathir
30 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Mahathir secures fifth term

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