Opposition leader denounces 'politically motivated' sodomy trial
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Jailed Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said he would call Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife as witnesses in his sodomy trial, which began Tuesday. Anwar has denounced the charges as the “machinations of a dirty, corrupt few”.
REUTERS - Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said on Tuesday he would subpoena the country's premier in a bid to escape what he says are politically motivated charges of sodomy that could see him jailed for 20 years.
Speaking outside a packed courtroom and cheered on by supporters shouting "justice for Malaysia, justice for Anwar" the 62-year-old former deputy premier said Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, had met his accuser and interfered with the trial, something a spokesman for Najib denied.
"They consider me a major threat. I am not a threat to Najib, I am just an alternative," Anwar told cheering supporters after the end of the first day of a trial attended by foreign embassy staff monitoring the case.
A call by Anwar's lawyers that the case be halted pending an appeal for the charge to be struck out were dismissed by the judge who said the case would continue on Wednesday afternoon.
Earlier, Anwar, accompanied by two of his daughters and his wife, told reporters the prosecution was down to "the machinations of a dirty, corrupt few".
The government insists it was not involved in the decision to take the case to trial.
"The PM and his wife have nothing to do with it," a government spokesman said in response to Anwar's comments.
The trial represents a huge challenge for Najib who took office in April last year to try to revive a government that has ruled Malaysia for 52 years but which has lost seven out of nine by-elections since it stumbled to record losses in national and state elections in 2008.
Najib also faces a big challenge to defuse a religious row that has damaged the government's image and needs to win back foreign investment that fled Malaysia at a faster rate than almost any other emerging market economy in 2009.
"Najib's reform agenda is going to face difficulties however the trial goes," said Ooi Kee Beng, a fellow at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
"If Anwar is set free, Najib will be seen as weak and unable to handle his enemy. If Anwar gets locked up, Malaysia suffers internationally and the judiciary will be seen as corrupt at a time when Malaysia needs foreign direct investment and investor confidence," he said.
INTERNATIONAL PRESENCE AT COURT
Inside the court, diplomats from the United States, European Union, Australia, Japan and Britain observed the proceedings and 70 people squashed onto benches in the public gallery, including Nik Aziz, spiritual adviser to Anwar's Islamic political allies, wearing a white turban and black robe.
Anwar's previous convictions for sodomy and corruption followed his dismissal as deputy prime minister in 1998, and most international observers said at the time the trials were not conducted fairly, an accusation that haunts the current hearing.
At most, 250 people gathered on Tuesday to support Anwar. That was a far cry from the tens of thousands that thronged his rallies in 1998 and political analysts said there was little chance of major street protests, although they said Malaysia's courts could be judged harshly.
Ordinary Malaysians appeared to have little time for the prosecution at a time when the country is struggling to recover from the global economic downturn.
"I think the government should spend more time on the economy and pulling up our standard of living rather than focusing on putting this man into jail," said Mohammad Ariffin Samsudin, a sales executive waiting for a relative outside the court complex.
"It's a waste of time," he told Reuters.
20 YEARS IN JAIL?
If found guilty of the charge of sodomising a young male aide in a country where all homosexual acts are criminal, Anwar, one of Asia's best known politicians, could face 20 years in jail.
His last conviction for sodomy, later overturned, saw him sentenced to nine years in prison.
Any sentence would effectively end his political challenge to Najib and the National Front coalition and remove a major thorn in the government's side ahead of elections that must be held by 2013 at the latest.
Anwar called for a strong turnout for his first day in court on his Twitter account, while his accuser Saiful Bukhari Azlan also said on Twitter he would be in court.
Outside the court, pamphlets supporting Saiful were scattered on the road, denouncing Anwar for not taking an oath on the Koran that he had not committed sodomy and for using appeals to frustrate the courts.