April 25, 2007 / 11:59 AM / 10 years ago

Malaysia protests to BBC after Anwar coverage

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia has complained to the BBC for giving air time to failed opposition leaders, state news agency Bernama said on Wednesday, in an apparent reference to former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.

<p>Malaysia's opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim speaks during an interview in Kuala Lumpur April 24, 2007. Anwar said on Tuesday his party, Parti Keadilan , faced an uphill task in Saturday's by-election. REUTERS/Zainal Abd Halim</p>

“It would be appropriate if the air time was given to the opposition political parties that had a place in politics in Malaysia, but why focus on people who have been rejected?” Bernama quoted Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin as saying.

“What is the objective of the BBC in doing so?” Zainuddin, a former journalist, told reporters when asked about a recent working visit to London, where he had lodged a protest with BBC World Service editors.

Bernama added: “He (Zainuddin) said the BBC move did not help to enhance relations between Britain and Malaysia and did not accord respect to the democratic decision of the Malaysian people in their rejection of the opposition political parties.”

Zainuddin did not name Anwar, but an aide to the opposition figure, who is attempting a political comeback after his release from jail in 2004, said the minister was clearly targeting him.

“Of course he’s referring to Anwar. Anwar is much sought after by the BBC,” the aide said, adding that Anwar had recorded an interview with the BBC in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

The BBC declined immediate comment on the Bernama report.

Anwar, 59, seen as potentially the most potent opposition force in Malaysia, is trying to resurrect his political career as the nation heads toward a possible early general election.

Anwar’s party, Keadilan, is currently fighting a by-election campaign that promises to be the first real test of grass-roots support for a man who rocked the political establishment in 1998.

Anwar, then deputy premier, had been on the threshold of gaining the leadership when he fell out with then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and took to the streets at the head of a large anti-government street protest. He was quickly arrested and later charged and jailed on charges of corruption and sodomy.

He was acquitted of the sodomy charge in 2004 and released, but his remaining criminal record for corruption bars him from standing for political office until April 2008. Instead, he has begun to campaign heavily for candidates of his party, Keadilan, amid expectation of a general election in the next 12 months.

Keadilan has just one seat in national parliament, held by his wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, but Anwar is seen even in government circles as a charismatic speaker who can strike a chord among the country’s ethnic Malay majority.

He is also seen as the only politician with a chance of uniting Malaysia’s divided opposition factions, which include an Islamist party backed by mainly rural Malays and the Democratic Action Party, which is backed by mostly urban ethnic Chinese.

Earlier on Wednesday, Anwar suffered a legal setback in a battle to prove that his 1998 sacking as deputy prime minister was unconstitutional, but he vowed to fight on undaunted.

Three appeals court judges unanimously held that Anwar’s dismissal from his cabinet posts by then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad was lawful, since the latter had the power to appoint or dismiss ministers, Bernama reported. “In short, no minister can remain as a member of the cabinet if the prime minister decided that he should be dismissed,” the agency quoted the judges as saying in their ruling.

Anwar told reporters he would go to Malaysia’s highest court to prove his removal was unconstitutional.

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