June 30, 2008 / 2:59 AM / 10 years ago

Malaysia's Anwar leaves Turkish embassy refuge

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Anwar Ibrahim, leader of Malaysia’s revitalised opposition, left the Turkish embassy on Monday where he had taken refuge following sodomy accusations, the latest thunderbolt in Malaysia’s political tempest.

Malaysia's de facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim speaks to journalists as he leaves the Turkish ambassador's residence in Kuala Lumpur June 30, 2008. REUTERS/Zainal Abd Halim

Anwar left the embassy around 11:45 a. m. British time via the ambassador’s residence. “Only after I received assurances of my safety, (did) I leave. I’m leaving on my own volition,” he told reporters.

The former deputy premier fled to the embassy early on Sunday fearing for his security after police began investigating a young aide’s allegation that Anwar had homosexually assaulted him. Foreign Minister Rais Yatim had summoned the Turkish ambassador on Monday to complain that Turkey had interfered in Malaysia’s internal affairs.

Anwar said he would cooperate with the police investigation, but feared a repeat of a similar drama a decade ago when he was accused of committing sodomy with the family driver and a political aide.

Anwar was sacked as deputy prime minister in 1998 and then jailed for corruption and sodomy after leading street protests against then premier Mahathir Mohamad’s government during the Asian financial crisis. The Supreme Court overturned the sodomy conviction six years later.

“I pray that enough will be done for my security,” Anwar, dressed in a black suit, said before climbing into his vehicle. “The new allegation is a repeat of the 1998 fiasco,” he said.

BY-ELECTION PLANS

In a telephone interview with Reuters earlier, Anwar said the allegations pre-empted plans to announce this week he was running for a seat in parliament in a by-election, and that four ruling coalition lawmakers would defect to the opposition camp.

The former deputy premier says he has been engineering defections aimed at overturning Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s majority in parliament at a time when Abdullah was facing pressures from his own party to step down.

“The whole government was at stake,” Anwar told Reuters. “Four MPs already cleared with me.”

The sodomy allegation was a ploy to distract public attention from rising food and fuel prices and other scandals afflicting Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s government, he said. Sodomy is a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison in Malaysia.

Anwar’s lawyers on Monday filed a defamation suit against the aide, who was taken to hospital on Sunday for examination.

Prime Minister Abdullah said the government had nothing at all to do with instigating the case against Anwar.

Political tensions have risen sharply in Malaysia since polls on March 8 that dealt Prime Minister Abdullah’s National Front coalition its worst electoral setback amid voter discontent over rising prices and corruption. The Front lost power in five of Malaysia’s 13 states as well as its traditional two-thirds majority in parliament.

Financial markets were closely watching the saga.

“It probably adds to political uncertainty that is clouding the outlook for Malaysia — one more factor that might pump investors to avoid the Malaysian market, as if there weren’t enough things to worry about that are clouding markets worldwide,” said David Cohen of Singapore-based Action Economics.

Malaysian Second Finance Minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop played down those concerns. “At the end of the day, what matters is the economic fundamentals despite the challenges,” he told reporters. “I am confident we will do very well.”

Anwar, 60, went to the Turkish embassy in a Kuala Lumpur suburb on Sunday morning, 12 hours after the accusations surfaced, saying he had received death threats. Neither Anwar nor his party have elaborated on those threats.

Slideshow (5 Images)

Home (Interior) Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Anwar’s life was not in any danger. “He should be able to discern between reality and play-acting,” he told reporters at parliament.

Anwar’s sacking in 1998 brought tens of thousands onto the streets. Police have warned Anwar’s supporters against holding any public protests and Anwar himself has called for restraint..

Additional reporting by Faisal Aziz; Writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by David Fox

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