| KUALA LUMPUR
KUALA LUMPUR A former aide to Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told a Kuala Lumpur court on Thursday that he had been sodomised by the former deputy prime minister on more than one occasion.
Anwar, 63, has been charged with one count of consensual sodomy with Saiful Bukhari Azlan, now aged 25, relating to an incident in June 2008 in a Kuala Lumpur condominium and denies the charge which he says is politically motivated.
"I was sodomised by Anwar in this country and also outside the country, in Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok," Saiful told the court under defence cross-examination.
All homosexual acts are illegal in this mainly Muslim Southeast Asian country and Anwar was found guilty of sodomy in 2000 after he was dismissed as deputy prime minister in 1998, although the conviction was quashed on appeal.
The court case is scheduled to last until August and Anwar's lawyers have complained that he is not getting a fair trial as the judge has not released what they say is key evidence.
A conviction in the trial could carry a 20-year jail term, ending the career of the one politician who is seen to be capable of ending the 52-year rule of the National Front government that has ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain.
Malaysian media have lapped up lurid details of the politically charged trial and have published photos showing "in camera" trial proceedings that prompted complaints by the opposition of bias.
Karpal Singh, Anwar's lead lawyer, accused Saiful of lying and said he had concocted the charges with Najib Razak, now the country's premier and who was deputy prime minister in 2008, and who has admitted meeting the accuser.
"We are saying there is a political conspiracy. He (Saiful) went to see the then deputy prime minister... There can be no doubt there is a political conspiracy," Karpal said.
PUBLIC PERCEPTION BATTLE
Analysts say the sensational media coverage signals a more important battle over the case that is being waged in the court of public opinion between the Anwar-led opposition and Najib's ruling coalition.
Anwar leads a three-party opposition group that denied the ruling coalition control in five of Malaysia's 13 states in elections in 2008 but was hit by a series of recent setbacks, including the resignation of four opposition MPs.
The Malaysian Insider (www.themalaysianinsider.com) news website reported on Wednesday that more lawmakers were poised to quit the People's Alliance and that it could lose control of a second state government. It lost one of the five states it ruled to defections last year.
Victory last month by the ruling National Front coalition in its first parliamentary by-election since the 2008 general election has also boosted the government's confidence.
But analysts say the country's non-Muslim minorities who abandoned the government due to alienation have yet to swing back to them. Tensions have also gone up due to a row over the use of the word "Allah" by Christians to describe God.
Najib took office in April 2009 pledging political and economic reforms to revive his ailing coalition and win back foreign investment.
Political uncertainties and diminishing competitiveness against the likes of China and Vietnam have helped dent foreign investment. Net portfolio and direct investment outflows reached $61 billion (41 billion pounds) in 2008 and 2009, according to official data.
Flows have returned to the Malaysian bond market, with official data showing foreign ownership of Malaysian government bonds rose to 55.4 billion Malaysian ringgit (11.6 billion pounds) as of March 10 from 41 billion ringgit, largely after a central bank rate hike and speculation of a Chinese currency revaluation.
(Writing by David Chance; Editing by Nick Macfie)