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Tuesday March 30, 1999














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Malaysia Anwar's wife to launch new party
06:22 a.m. Mar 30, 1999 Eastern

KUALA LUMPUR, March 30 (Reuters) - The wife of Malaysia's ousted finance minister Anwar Ibrahim, in her boldest political move since her husband was sacked seven months ago, said on Tuesday she is launching an opposition party.

Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said supporters of her husband's ``reformasi'' (reform) movement who are opposed to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, as well as members of her rights group ADIL, will launch the multi-ethnic party on April 4.

``My friends and I from the Reformasi Movement and ADIL have decided to launch a party called Parti Keadilan Nasional, or the National Justice Party,'' she said in a statement.

It was not clear whether Anwar, who was expelled from Mahathir's United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in September after he was sacked from the cabinet, would cut his ties to UMNO and back the new party.

``Wait until Sunday,'' Chandra Muzaffar, a member of ADIL's governing committee, told Reuters when asked if Anwar would throw his support behind the new party.

Anwar was arrested in late September and faces 10 counts of corruption and sodomy. A High Court judge is due on April 6 to deliver the verdict over four of the corruption charges.

Once Malaysia's prime-minister-in-waiting, Anwar has been careful not to burn his bridges to UMNO, which has led Malaysia's governing coalitions since independence in 1957.

But UMNO leaders have closed ranks behind Mahathir since Anwar's sacking, and Anwar has said he expects to be sentenced to at least two years in jail, which would all but dash his hopes of succeeding Mahathir.

Wan Azizah is considering challenging Mahathir in his own constituency in general elections due by April 2000, and has been touring the country drawing large crowds of supporters.

Although Anwar's sacking has opened a divide in UMNO, even opposition leaders hold out little hope of toppling Mahathir's multi-ethnic Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition in the next polls.

Chandra said Wan Azizah's new party had been registered in 1990 under the name Malaysian Islamic Alliance and initially admitted only Moslems. The name has been changed to reflect the new party's multi-ethnic, multi-religious slant, he said.

``The new name is a reflection of the people's aspirations embodied in the current struggle for justice,'' Wan Azizah said. ``The party's mission is crystal clear -- to uphold truth and justice.''

Malaysia's two largest opposition parties are the Moslem fundamentalist Parti Islam Se-Malaysia and the Democratic Action Party, which draws its support largely from urban ethnic Chinese.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication and redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.Reuters News Service
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