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Anwar lawyers seek longer appeal time

Anwar has been fitted with a neckbrace after suffering a slipped disc
Anwar has been fitted with a neckbrace after suffering a slipped disc  

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (Reuters) -- Defense lawyers for Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's jailed former deputy prime minister, say they want more time to argue their case in a final appeal against their client's corruption conviction.

"We will most certainly be seeking fresh dates at the end of tomorrow," lead defense counsel Raja Aziz Addruse told Reuters after Wednesday morning's court session ended.

The hearing, scheduled for four days through to Thursday, may extend to the week of February 18, after the Lunar New Year holiday, he said.

Anwar's court appearance in 1998 with bruises and a black eye, and subsequent trials, sparked outrage at home and abroad and prompted Washington to describe him as a political prisoner.

The ex-minister became an opposition figurehead in Malaysia, ruled for more than 20 years by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, although his support has waned in recent months. Asia
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Anwar's defence is appealing against convictions for corruption and a six-year sentence, hoping for a reduced term if the appeal fails to secure an acquittal.

A key point at issue is whether Anwar abused powers of office to sway a Special Branch investigation into his sexual conduct.

Even if acquitted, Anwar will return to jail for a nine-year term he is serving for sodomy, which is also under appeal. He was denied bail.

Defence lawyer Sulaiman Abdullah spent Wednesday morning contesting a prosecution decision mid-trial to amend charges against his client. He said Anwar was also denied the chance to rebut allegations of sexual misconduct and sodomy, issues related to the conviction.

"The accused had to sit and listen to the filth day in and out. Then, when he turned around and neutralised the allegations, the charges were amended," said Sulaiman.

He was also critical of High Court Judge Augustine Paul.

"His whole attitude showed, as far as he was concerned, that there could only be one result -- conviction," Sulaiman said.

Riot police

The three Federal Court judges, headed by Chief Justice Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah, may rule at the end of the hearing or reserve their decision for weeks or even months.

A handful of supporters watched by riot police marked the start of Anwar's third day in court, looking on as the prisoner arrived in a neck brace and back support to protect his slipped disc.

Anwar has said the charges against him were cooked up by the prime minister's allies during the Asian financial crisis to block any challenge for the top job.

Sacked by Mahathir in 1998, Anwar quickly rallied opposition forces in Malaysia to his "reformasi" movement.

But its fortunes have dimmed as Mahathir latched on to a backlash against Muslim fundamentalism after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Free Anwar Campaign director Raja Petra Raja Kamaruddin told Reuters outside the court the movement has had problems fighting off accusations of militancy.

"Reformasi does not believe in bombs, guns and grenade launchers, as we are made out to," he said.

Raja Petra was among 10 Anwar supporters arrested last April and accused by authorities of planning to topple the government by force.

Mahathir says Anwar's trials were fair and described his former heir apparent as immoral and unfit to rule.




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