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Page last updated at 01:28 GMT, Tuesday, 15 April 2008 02:28 UK

Anwar 'could topple Malaysia PM'

Anwar Ibrahim speaks at the rally in Kuala Lumpur (14 April 2008)
Mr Anwar was sacked by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1998

The Malaysian opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, has said he has the support of enough MPs to topple the government but is waiting for the right moment.

Mr Anwar was speaking shortly after police broke up a rally of thousands of his supporters marking the end of a ban preventing him from running for office.

The former deputy prime minister was jailed in 1998 on corruption charges he has said were politically motivated.

Malaysia's opposition parties performed well in the general election in March.

They won control of the legislatures in five out of the country's 13 states, and an unprecedented 82 of the 222 seats in the House of Representatives.

The ruling National Front suffered its worst showing in decades, prompting calls for Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to resign.

'Reform'

The BBC's Robin Brant, who was at the rally in Kuala Lumpur, says one of Asia's most enduring politicians returned to frontline politics when the five-year ban on him standing for public office expired at midnight.

We have the numbers... Some [government MPs] have had discussions with us, but we are not in a hurry
Anwar Ibrahim

Thousands of his supporters from the People's Justice Party chanted "reform" as they watched their leader take to the stage and officially return to Malaysian politics, our correspondent says.

"We are just waiting for the right time. We want to create a new era for Malaysia," Mr Anwar said to applause.

"We will hand over the parliamentary opposition post to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi," he added.

The celebration came to an abrupt halt, however, when the police interrupted Mr Anwar's speech after several minutes and forced him to stop on the grounds that the organisers had not applied for a permit beforehand.

The rally in Kuala Lumpur (14 April 2008)
Mr Anwar's supporters jeered the police but dispersed peacefully

The crowd, which police estimated to be 4,000-strong and the opposition 10-times that number, jeered the police but dispersed peacefully.

Afterwards, Mr Anwar told reporters that the three-party opposition alliance was "ready to govern the country".

"We have the numbers... Some [government MPs] have had discussions with us, but we are not in a hurry," he added.

Mr Anwar said the opposition needed a "comfortable majority" to carry out the reforms it planned, from cleaning up the judiciary to ending corruption and ensuring racial harmony.

New beginning

During the 1990s, Mr Anwar had been widely expected to succeed former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad when he stepped down.

But he was sacked in 1998 and then convicted of corruption and sodomy - charges he has always denied.

Although freed from jail in 2004, the corruption conviction barred him from holding political office until 15 April 2008.

Our correspondent says that surprisingly after 10 years of waiting, Mr Anwar is not in a rush to return to government.

But make no mistake, he adds, Mr Anwar wants to be prime minister, and his supporters feel the end of this ban is the beginning of the process.



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