Malaysia's Anwar faces charges over protest as election looms

Reuters , Monday 21 May 2012

Malaysian opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim faces new charges of violating the country's Peaceful Assembly Act in April protests ahead of expected announcement of elections

Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (2nd L) and his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (2nd R) arrive at a Bersih (clean) reform rally, near Dataran Merdeka or Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur April 28, (Photo: Reuters).

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim will be charged over his role in a street protest against the government last month, police and Anwar's aides said on Monday, adding to tension ahead of what are likely to be closely fought national elections.

Anwar, a former deputy prime minister who spent six years in jail on sodomy and corruption charges, received a summons to appear in court on Tuesday to be charged with contravening the country's Peaceful Assembly Act, his aides said.

Putting further legal pressure on the 64-year-old Anwar, who was acquitted of other sodomy charges in January, could prove risky for the government by increasing sympathy votes for the de-facto leader of the three-party opposition coalition.

Anwar, who says the previous charges against him were a result of political persecution, addressed the tens of thousands of protesters who thronged the centre of Kuala Lumpur late last month to demand changes to the country's electoral laws.

The protest turned violent when police fired teargas and water cannon at protesters who had broken through barricades, the latest sign of rising political tension ahead of elections the Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to call soon.

A video later surfaced showing Anwar gesturing to senior opposition politician Azmin Ali shortly before the barricades were breached. Government allies said the video showed Anwar had encouraged the breach, something he and Azmin - who has also received a summons on the same charge - have denied.

Police arrested hundreds of protesters and were accused by human rights groups of an overzealous response, including beating unarmed demonstrators and assaulting journalists.

The violence risked tarnishing Najib's carefully groomed image as a reformer ahead of elections that could be the closest in Malaysia's history following a surge in support for the opposition in 2008.

The National Front coalition lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time in the last election, signalling growing dissatisfaction over cronyism and the slow pace of reform.

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