Anwar defence lawyers to interview Malaysian PM

Malaysian opposition leader has blasted the sodomy charges as a political frame-up.

Kuala Lumpur: A Malaysian judge on Monday postponed the restart of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim`s sodomy trial as he granted a defence request to interview witnesses including Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Anwar had been expected to take the stand for the first time in the marathon three-year trial, possibly as early as Monday, to defend himself against charges he sodomised a young male aide in 2008.

But judge Zabidin Mohamed Diah put the proceedings back to August 15 after he granted a request by Anwar`s team to seek interviews with witnesses including the Prime Minister.

"The defence has the right to interview the witnesses on the condition they are willing," Zabidin told the courtroom.

Anwar`s accuser Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan has said he met with Najib before filing a police report on the sodomy accusation.

The defence says this indicates the case was manufactured and has sought interviews with Najib, his wife Rosmah Mansor and others before presenting their case and calling witnesses in court.

The one-time premier-in-waiting, who turns 64 on Wednesday, has blasted the charges as a political frame-up. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of sodomy, which is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Monday`s ruling means witnesses sought by Anwar will be compelled to come to court for interviews with the defence but will not be legally bound to offer any testimony, said Noorin Badaruddin, a member of the prosecution team.

The case is the latest court action against Anwar -- a one-time deputy prime minister and heir-apparent to former leader Mahathir Mohamad -- whose legal battles have dominated Malaysian politics for years.

Anwar alleges the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, which has governed Malaysia for half a century and is now headed by Najib, concocted the case to stall his opposition revival.

"That is the intention of Najib. That is from the very beginning. They want to put me in jail," he said recently.

Malaysia was once one of Asia`s most politically stable countries under Mahathir, who had groomed Anwar to take the helm of the economically vibrant, ethnically diverse nation.

But a bitter policy split amid the 1997 Asian currency crisis led to Anwar`s arrest the following year -- and later his conviction -- on separate sodomy and corruption charges widely seen as politically motivated.

Anwar was freed in 2004 after that sodomy conviction was overturned and he sparked a resurgence by the political opposition, which achieved historic gains against the ruling Barisan Nasional in 2008 general elections.

But the new sodomy accusation also emerged that year, with Anwar alleging it was a bid by the government to sink opposition chances in elections expected to be called early next year.

Last month, police used tear gas and water cannon to put down a demonstration calling for electoral reform, the biggest anti-government protest in years.

Bureau Report

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