Friday, January 16, 2004

Malaysian activists test new PM

Last Updated: Friday, 16 January, 2004, 08:15 GMT

Malaysian activists test new PM
By Jonathan Kent
BBC, Kuala Lumpur

Malaysian opposition political activists are launching a series of demonstrations starting on Friday to test the democratic credentials of the country's new leader.

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi committed himself to allowing a wider range of views to be expressed when he took power at the beginning of November.

In his first speech to parliament as prime minister, he promised to ensure that a culture of democracy thrived in Malaysia.

Abdullah Badawi's first press conference since taking over the premiership
Abdullah Badawi has promised to encourage greater openness
But supporters of Malaysia's jailed former Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, say Mr Abdullah has been evasive about the issue of allowing political meetings and demonstrations.

Such gatherings in Malaysia require a police permit and these are rarely given to opposition groups.

Under the banner of the Free Anwar Movement and supported by the country's main opposition parties, they are planning to travel around Malaysia in a convoy of cars.

They expect an election to be called at any time and they want to take their message to the people.

A month-long series of events culminating with a mass rally planned for 14 February is intended to test the new climate of tolerance.

Last weekend, police and officials intervened to stop a picnic organised by Mr Anwar's supporters.

In the wake of his arrest in 1998, police regularly used force to break up demonstrations, many of which turned violent.