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The authorities' crackdown, however, has shown little other weakness. Since Monday morning, when an angry crowd at the central courthouse was scattered by water cannon, Kuala Lumpur's streets have been largely quiet. The more powerful members of Anwar's inner circle have also been detained under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA)--including Ahmad, the four seniormost members of the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia and the president of the National Union of Malaysian Students. Others have gone into hiding or fled the country. A day after her husband's arrest, the soft-spoken Wan Azizah vowed to take his place. But by the end of the week she sat isolated in her home, ringed by police, unable to address crowds or even individual journalists.

Anwar himself could speak only through a videotape recorded hours before his arrest and broadcast outside Malaysia on cnbc. On camera he warns darkly of corruption involving UMNO and the Prime Minister's family, and claims to know of a "billion"--he doesn't specify dollars or ringgit--that has been funneled into a Swiss bank account. Mahathir quickly laughed off the charges, perhaps assuming that most Malaysians would never see the tape. "Malaysia is now a one-man show," says a financial analyst in Singapore. "It's a completely different animal."

Indeed, a smiling, newly confident Mahathir seemed to relish the chance to take on skeptics from the media. At a press conference Tuesday, an avuncular "Dr. M" praised police for breaking up the demonstrations and defended the decision to arrest Anwar with something akin to regret. He pledged that his onetime heir-apparent would not be denied his rights under Malaysian law. Generously, Mahathir even allowed that he appreciated Azizah's loyalty to her husband. "When the truth is known," he predicted calmly, "everyone, even his friends, will reject him."

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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?


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October 5, 1998

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