They could not be faulted for lack of trying. After prayers last Friday, riot police, some still wearing their black combat boots, stormed into the National Mosque to break up a loud, pro-Anwar rally--prompting fears of a backlash from outraged Muslims. With more protests scheduled in the coming days, an unapologetic Mahathir vowed that Anwar would not receive a trial until he "tells his followers not to riot."
The Prime Minister's hard line had been drawn at the beginning of the week, when the daily gatherings at Anwar's house gave rise to the largest political demonstration ever seen in Kuala Lumpur. On Sunday more than 30,000 students, workers, professionals and housewives gathered to hear Anwar rail against his former mentor from the balcony of the National Mosque. Tens of thousands more joined in after Anwar suggested that protesters "take a walk" with him to Merdeka Square, near where Britain's Queen Elizabeth, in town for the closing of the Commonwealth Games, attended a church service earlier that afternoon. After dark, when most of the protesters--including Anwar--had gone home, several thousand stragglers marched on UMNO headquarters and then the Prime Minister's residence, where troops and armored vehicles awaited them. "Malaysians are not what they were 20 years ago," says Mahinder, a supporter who spent that evening outside Anwar's home. "People will not keep quiet any more."
By then, the threat that Anwar posed had become clear to the leadership that had recently expelled him. And so, as the thin, bespectacled politician prepared to deliver his nightly press briefing, masked troops from the elite Federal Reserve Unit kicked down his front door and knocked aside assembled aides and journalists. After leaving in an entourage that included Anwar's family and lawyer, the authorities switched cars and hustled Anwar into the night. By week's end, neither his wife Wan Azizah Ismail nor his lawyers had seen him again. The fact that he was being denied access to counsel and had not been brought before a court has led many to doubt the strength of the case against him, which seems to hinge on various charges of sodomy and adultery.
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R E L A T E D L I N K S :
POLL Can Wan Azizah Ismail sustain her husband's reform movement?
POLL Should Anwar have been arrested as a threat to national security?
POLL Will the currency controls help Malaysia?
THIS WEEK'S TABLE OF CONTENTS
October 5, 1998
DR. M STRIKES BACK
Rocked by street protests, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad tries to squelch a budding reform movement by jailing former duputy Anwar Ibrahim. But has the crackdown come too late?
Anwar's wife picks up the mantle
The economy will decide Mahathir's fate