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World - Asia/Pacific

Malaysian police try to thwart pro-Anwar demonstrations

April 15, 1999
Web posted at: 4:28 a.m. EDT (0828 GMT)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) -- In an apparent bid to prevent riots and demonstrations, Malaysian riot police on Thursday blocked a road in the capital after dozens of supporters of jailed former finance minister shouted anti- government slogans.

The protesters shouted "reformasi" (reform) briefly before a water cannon truck and several truckloads of riot police with shields and batons arrived to take up position near the courthouse where Anwar was sentenced on Wednesday to six years in jail.

The protesters scattered as soon as the riot police arrived. Several dozen riot police blocked traffic on a main avenue near the courthouse where protesters on Wednesday clashed repeatedly with security forces, throwing stones and lighting bonfires.

Representatives of the National Council of Malaysian Students said they had gathered at the site to hand a memorandum to the chief justice expressing their lack of confidence in the judiciary following the verdict in Anwar's trial.

Anwar was convicted on four counts of corruption and sentenced to four six-year jail terms to run concurrently.

Numerous foreign governments criticized the verdict and expressed concern over the trial which began in November, two months after Anwar was sacked as deputy prime minister.

His jailing prevents him participating in politics for five years after his release.

Authorities in Malaysia fear the court decision could result in widespread demonstrations. In the wake of Anwar's sacking tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets.

During the trial, which ran for 78 days, the court heard from 23 prosecution witnesses and 22 from the defense. The state argued that Anwar was a corrupt adulterer. A mattress said to contain Anwar's seminal fluids was dragged into the courtroom and key witnesses testified he had sex with women and men; his former driver said he was Anwar's "sex slave."

The defense argued that Anwar was a devout Muslim, innocent of all charges and the victim of a political conspiracy to eliminate his challenge to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's 18-year leadership.

Family waves good-bye

Thursday saw Anwar driven to jail for the first full day of his term at Sungai Buloh. He left behind his wife Azizah Ismail and six children.

Anwar was stoic Azizah told Reuters Television in an interview on Thursday in her suburban home.

"'Be strong. They can imprison me physically, but they can't imprison my spirit,"' she quoted him as telling her before he climbed into the police van.

"'Don't be sad. Don't despair. We have a cause to champion, and this is long. We have to be strong and continue."'

Azizah said: "Before he went into the van, I told him, 'I will take care of the children."'

"The family took it rather hard, they were very upset," Azizah, an ophthalmologist, said.

In sentencing Anwar, High Court Judge Augustine Paul stipulated that his jail term would start immediately and the seven months he had spent in detention would not count towards the six years.

Under prison regulations, Anwar will be allowed one visit by his family a month. He will not be able to touch them.

"The children feel the injustice, a feeling already, of course, during these seven months that they've lost their father," Azizah said.

"But more so now that the seven months are not counted."

Azizah has vowed to unite opposition parties against Mahathir.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Anwar supporters protest his conviction
April 14, 1999
Malaysia's Anwar found guilty on corruption charges
April 14, 1999
Malaysia awaits Anwar verdict this week
April 12, 1999

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