Malaysian opposition leader awaits verdict

Anwar Ibrahim says he is prepared to face jail sentence for sodomy conviction if declared guilty by Kuala Lumpur court.

    Malaysia's opposition leader has said he is prepared to go to jail on the eve of an eagerly awaited verdict in his trial on sodomy charges that threaten his political career.

    Anwar Ibrahim has toured the country in the past week, whipping up crowds of supporters with fiery speeches denouncing the sordid accusations against him as a government frame-up aimed at neutralising him politically.

    With a decision less than a day away, about 500 people including family members on Sunday joined the once-high-flying leader at his residence in two hours of prayers seeking intervention by Allah for his freedom.

    Anwar will address supporters later on Sunday night at two separate rallies in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

    In a brief interview at his home earlier on Sunday, Anwar told the AFP news agency he had prepared himself mentally for a guilty verdict on charges he sodomised a male aide in 2008.

    'Psychologically prepared'

    Sodomy is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia and punishable by 20 years in jail. Anwar has already been jailed once on the same accusation in a separate case before a court overturned the conviction.

    "Mentally, I am OK. I am psychologically prepared [for a guilty verdict]," said Anwar, who, like many observers, believes such a verdict is highly likely.

    "Physically, of course, I am 64 ... my health conditions are, of course, not as great as when I was at the age of 50."

    Kuala Lumpur was bracing for potential unrest, with the opposition saying it plans to gather 100,000 people outside the court on Monday where judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah will pronounce Anwar's fate.

    But Anwar said his supporters were being urged to assemble peacefully and disperse quickly after the verdict. There have been no reports of unrest during his tour.

    "I do not anticipate any violence tomorrow," said Anwar, who added that voters should take any revenge at the ballot box only.

    Najib Razak, the prime minister, is expected to call elections soon.

    Imminent protest

    In a concession rare for a country where dissent is tightly controlled, police said they would allow the gathering outside the courthouse, provided it did not get out of hand.

    In July, a rally for electoral reform by tens of thousands in the capital was crushed by police using tear gas and water cannons. About 1,600 people were arrested.

    The verdict announcement has revived memories of Anwar's stunning fall from the ruling coalition more than a decade ago.

    As deputy premier in the 1990s, Anwar was groomed by Mahathir Mohamad, then-prime minister, to take power until a bitter row between them saw Anwar ousted in 1998, beaten and jailed on sodomy and graft charges.

    Thousands took to the streets in huge demonstrations calling for "reformasi" and denouncing Anwar's ouster, which was widely viewed as politically motivated.

    Anwar re-emerged years later at the helm of the opposition, inspiring an unlikely alliance of disparate parties to unprecedented parliamentary gains in 2008 general elections that shook the ruling establishment. The new sodomy charge emerged shortly afterward.

    However, Anwar echoed many political observers in saying a guilty verdict could boost the opposition in the long run.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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