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Anwar leaves jail for brother's funeral as campaigning hots up

Date: 21 Nov 1999
Time: 22:24:36


Anwar leaves jail for brother's funeral as campaigning hots up

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 21 (AFP) - Malaysia's sacked deputy premier and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was allowed to leave jail Sunday to attend the funeral of his brother, a spokesman for Anwar's wife said.

As politicians hit the streets for their first full day of campaigning for the November 29 elections, Anwar made a surprise appearance under guard at the funeral of his brother Mohamad Rani Ibrahim.

The opposition Alternative Front alliance, whose candidate for premier is Anwar, has slammed the government over the case -- saying they refused appeals to let the politician leave jail to see his brother before he died Saturday of lung cancer at the age of 62.

It was not immediately known if Anwar was able to talk to his wife Wan Azizah at the Islamic funeral ceremony in a Kuala Lumpur suburb, attended by some 200-300 people.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who sacked his heir apparent Anwar in September 1998, started his campaign in his northern home state of Kedah. He again lashed out at the Alternative Front as a marriage of electoral convenience.

"They have entered into a pact only for this general election but after the election they will squabble again," the state Bernama news agency quoted him as saying Saturday night.

Mahathir said the alliance -- the National Justice Party led by Anwar's wife, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the Islamic Parti Islam SeMalaysia and the Malaysian People's Party -- had only formed a pact and not a coalition because they were not using a common election symbol.

Parties in the ruling National Front coalition have stopped using their own symbols in favour of the Front's symbol of the scales of justice.

Mahathir, Asia's longest-serving elected leader after 18 years in power, also said he hoped this would be his last election.

"After winning the 1995 election I told my wife and children that I can't take it any more." the Sun newspaper quoted him as telling party workers Saturday night.

"I am willing to stay for this election but I hope it is my last," the 73-year-old premier said.

Mahathir said he was supposed to stay in office till 1998 because of the Commonwealth Games and other events. After that, he was supposed to hand over power to a new premier.

"At the time I thought it would be Anwar."

But Mahathir said his then-deputy "could not handle" the economic crisis and was listening too much to the International Monetary Fund.

Mahathir also referred to Anwar's "despicable behaviour" which he said made him unfit even to be a ruling party member.

Anwar was jailed for six years in April for abusing his power to cover up allegations of homosexual and heterosexual misconduct. He is now on trial for sodomy, which is punishable by up to 20 years.

He says he is the victim of a top-level political conspiracy but the government says the courts are independent.

Mahathir has committed himself at least to retaining a two-thirds parliamentary majority for his coalition.

But the sacking and jailing of Anwar has split the ethnic Malay community. The opposition sees its best ever chance of ending the two-thirds majority which allows constitutional changes, and loosening the stranglehold on power which the National Front and its predecessor has had since independence in 1957.

Anwar, in a surprise move, decided not to have nomination papers submitted Saturday so he could stand from behind bars for a seat.

He feared that his party risked losing a possible seat should his nomination be rejected, according to party officials.

Convicted criminals are barred from running for office for five years from the date of their release. But Anwar's supporters say he is eligible to stand as his appeal is pending against his conviction.

Last changed: November 21, 1999