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Thursday, 13 January, 2000, 22:40 GMT
Fifth opposition arrest in Malaysia

Mahathir Mohamad Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad is on holiday

A fifth opposition figure has been arrested and released on bail in Malaysia.

Mohamad Ezam Noor was secretary to the country's jailed former deputy-leader, Anwar Ibrahim, and is now a leading member of the National Justice Party set up by Mr Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Ismail.

He was accused of distributing classified documents.

Four leading critics of the government were arrested earlier this week but Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi denied it was the start of a widespread crackdown.

Ezam said he had been arrested but later released on bail.

He told Reuter news agency: "I will be charged tomorrow in court ... of course, I will plead not guilty."

The party's Vice-President Marina Yusoff was arrested on Tuesday along with the deputy leader of the Democratic Action Party, Karpal Singh, who led the legal team defending Mr Anwar.

Court appearances

The editor and publisher of the Islamic Party's newspaper Harakah pleaded not guilty to sedition in court on Thursday. The editor, Zulkifli Sulong, told the BBC that he thought the governing Unmo party was seeking revenge for opposition gains in November's general election.

Zulfilki Sulong Mr Sulong pleaded not guilty in court

Mr Singh and Ms Marina are expected to appear in court on Friday but it is not clear when the fourth detainee, Harakah's printer Chia Lim Thye, would be charged.

The South-East Asian Press Alliance expressed outrage at the arrests of the editor and publisher and demanded that the charges be dropped.

Mass arrests rumours 'untrue'

Kuala Lumpur police chief Kamaruddin Ali has denied there was a sweep like that of 1987, when more than 100 opposition politicians were jailed in a coordinated operation.

Mr Badawi Mr Badawi: No crackdown

"There is no truth to such rumours," The Star newspaper quoted Kamaruddin as saying. "The arrests were results of investigations following police reports lodged by several people."

The arrests come two months after bitterly-contested general elections. Priime Minister Mahathir Mohamad left for a two-week holiday in Argentina on Wednesday, leaving Mr Badawi in charge.

Mr Sulong, who was released on bail, faces a maximum punishment of three years in jail and a 5,000 ringgit ($1,300) fine.

His trial was set for 22 May.

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See also:
12 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Opposition figures arrested in Malaysia
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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